Working at full capacity at Siemens: the workforce is groaning under the flood of orders

The recession in Germany does not affect everyone. And the weakening of the global economy does not necessarily slow down every global corporation. Siemens, for example, has just reported gross record profits of a good ten billion euros for the past fiscal year (ending September 30). This has never happened before. Business in the three divisions of digital industries, smart infrastructure and mobility (railway technology and trains) is running like clockwork – and brings with it special problems. “The incoming orders are enormous, there is a lack of staff everywhere,” reports Birgit Steinborn, head of the works council. “The high workload is what really burns people under their nails.”

Steinborn discussed the current situation in the group with around 350 works councils from 65 Siemens locations at a meeting in Berlin this week. Since February 2021, Roland Busch has been setting the direction and setting the tone as CEO. Busch succeeded Joe Kaeser, with whose portfolio management, spin-off and sale of concert parts, the employee representatives have quarreled a lot. “The mood in the company has improved a lot since CEO Roland Busch has been appointed,” said Steinborn in an interview with the Tagesspiegel. “Pioneering spirit, team spirit and responsibility – these are the values ​​that we associate with our Next Siemens.” That also applies to Busch by and large.

Birgit Steinborn has headed the Siemens General Works Council since 2014.  She has represented the employees on the Supervisory Board of Siemens AG since 2015.
Birgit Steinborn has headed the Siemens General Works Council since 2014. She has represented the employees on the Supervisory Board of Siemens AG since 2015.
© Tsp/Thilo Rückeis

The engineer Busch is much better received by the workforce than the businessman Kaeser with his pronounced capital market orientation and cost reduction programs. Already in Kaerser’s time, the works councils had pushed through a further training fund endowed with 100 million euros, which is still being used. “Through our future fund, employees are qualified for the changes in digitization,” explains Steinborn, who has been the first woman to head the general works council since 2014. “The further training fund has given a boost in terms of employee participation and qualification.”


Siemens AG has employees in Germany

At Siemens AG, the group still employs around 55,000 people in Germany, plus the associated companies such as Siemens Healthineers, which is listed on the stock exchange, there are around 85,000. In Berlin, the place where it was founded and the largest production site, the group currently has 10,500 employees. “What is still missing in the group is a Germany strategy for more employment,” says Steinborn, head of the works council, in an interview with the Tagesspiegel. “Because of portfolio measures and spin-offs, the number of employees in the group in Germany continues to decrease.” The board is currently considering the spin-off of three areas, including the business with large engines. 14,000 employees would be affected worldwide, 3,200 of them in Germany and 400 in the Berlin Dynamowerk.

“We cannot understand the plans,” says Steinborn. Siemens produces “the most efficient and sustainable motors ever”. “We demand that the areas remain in the group: instead of restructuring and outsourcing, we need secure future prospects for the employees.” Basically, the works councilor trusts the board of directors. In any case, the traditional values ​​of the group, which was founded in Berlin in 1847, played a greater role today than they did two or three years ago. In addition to the pioneering spirit, Steinborn believes that innovative strength and social responsibility are part of it. “We welcome the Management Board’s focus on employees and innovation.”

Change, and transformation is in full swing, doesn’t work without the workforce. “If you want to win people over, you have to involve them,” says Steinborn. Information and participation are the guiding principles of all works council work. And staff development. At the moment there is a problem because people are working to the limit. “There is not only a lack of software developers, but also of service employees and industrial specialists,” reports Steinborn about the conditions in the Siemens factories. This sometimes has bitter consequences for older people: They want to go into semi-retirement, for which there is a group-wide regulation, but the employer blocks them because the colleagues are needed and their positions can hardly be filled

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“The development of the number of employees in Germany does not reflect that we are a growth company,” says Steinborn angrily and calls for greater efforts in vocational training. In addition to the current burden and the omnipresent transformation, the Siemens works councils dealt with the topic of sustainability at their Berlin conference. The group had abolished the possibility for Siemens employees to charge their private e-cars free of charge on the respective factory premises. That caused trouble.

The board gives in

“Sustainability must be experienced at the locations,” says Steinborn. “We need visible changes on site, such as e-charging stations or the solar panel on the roof.” The board reacted quickly, the employees are allowed to continue charging their cars at corporate expense. This is also an example of very special problems that other companies would like to have this fall.

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