Former VW works council chief Osterloh: "I just should have said yes"
Photo: Julian Stratenschulte / dpa Pool
In the criminal proceedings for possibly excessive works council salaries at Volkswagen, ex-group works council chief Bernd Osterloh denied any influence on his own pay.
"I was not involved in any payment that affects my person," said the 65-year-old as a witness on the third day of the trial before the Braunschweig regional court.
The public prosecutor accuses two former board members and two HR managers of VW of having granted five works councils, including Osterloh, excessive salaries and bonuses between 2011 and 2016. According to the prosecution, in contravention of the Works Constitution Act, the managers deliberately used an inaccurate comparison group when determining the salaries of the employee representatives. The investigators put the damage caused to Volkswagen at a good five million euros, three million of which are attributable to the unjustified remuneration of the group works council chairman. Osterloh's total salary had risen to 750,000 euros in one year as a result of bonus payments.
The defendants have denied the allegations. They explained in the process that they would have set the payment of exempt works council members according to the principles applicable at Volkswagen.
In response to the judge's questions, Osterloh described his professional career at the Wolfsburg-based car manufacturer since 1977 and the qualifications he had acquired. He regularly rejected offers to switch to personnel management. It was always about representing the interests of his colleagues. He described that the then HR director Horst Neumann had offered him in 2015 to become his successor. A year earlier, the then chairman of the supervisory board, Ferdinand Piëch, approached him with this offer. "I just had to say yes, then that would have been implemented," said Osterloh. However, he refused. His aim was to take responsibility for the employees, but not to lose sight of the well-being of the group. »You can only milk a cowwhen she gives milk. ”Good collective agreements are only possible if a company earns more money.
Osterloh gave the court a detailed description of the particularly high level of co-determination at Volkswagen. This means that important decisions cannot be enforced against the works council and the state of Lower Saxony, which has a 20 percent stake in the company. In this context, the ex-works council chief spoke of a special relationship of trust between employee representatives, the management board and the supervisory board. Critics also refer to this as the »VW system« and accuse Volkswagen of a lack of transparency.
In the infidelity process before the regional court, Volkswagen has the role of the injured party. However, the group also has an interest in the legal issues relating to works council remuneration being clarified. In the opinion of the Wolfsburg-based company, the Works Constitution Act is imprecise and out of date on many points. It did not take into account, for example, that exempt employee representatives had special qualifications and often looked back on a »special career«. In some cases, they acted on an equal footing with managers.
During his time as head of the works council, Osterloh saw himself as a »co-manager«, without him, hardly any important decisions were possible at Volkswagen.
According to his own statements, he sat on a total of twelve supervisory boards in the VW world.
The most important decisions he made with his participation were the preservation of the VW Act in the fight against Porsche's attempt to take over Volkswagen, as well as the pact for the future, with which the group cushioned the downsizing after the diesel scandal through partial retirement regulations and paved the way for electromobility.
In April, after 16 years, Osterloh relinquished the chairmanship of the employee representatives to become Chief Human Resources Officer of the Volkswagen commercial vehicle subsidiary Traton.
mik / Reuters