German hospital workers poised to strike in wage dispute

Civil servants across Germany are preparing to strike over a wage dispute, their union said Tuesday, with the walkout to also hit public hospitals despite a new surge in coronavirus cases.

Striking workers outside Berlin Charité Hospital
Striking workers stand outside Berlin Charité hospital with signs calling for more personnel on September 13th. A date for the latest strike has not yet been announced. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

“Those who provoke strikes should not be surprised when they get them,” said Frank Werneke, who heads the Verdi union that represents more than 800,000 public sector employees.

No start date has been announced yet for the industrial action which will affect all of Germany’s 16 states with the exception of Hesse during November.

But with staff from dozens of university clinics represented by the union, health institutions are expected to be hard hit by the stoppage.

Some 4,500 beds in intensive care are currently already out of service because of an acute shortage in medical staff.

Meanwhile, doctors are warning of a sharp rise in Covid patients filling intensive wards – most of whom are unvaccinated. 

Werneke said the union had no choice but to raise the pressure as the employer has so far refused to make a counter offer to its demands.

The union is seeking a five percent wage hike for public sector employees, or a minimum of 150 euros in salary increase monthly.

For workers in the health sector, it wants a 300 euro monthly increase.

The lead negotiator for the states, Reinhold Hilbers, said they will not put forward any offer as long as the union refuses to agree to a pay scale reform.

READ ALSO: German hospitals see sharp increase in Covid-19 patients

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.