German public sector workers continue strikes as key talks begin

6th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Union officials say that employers presented a ‘sham’ offer.

Berlin -- Germany's public sector workers mounted rolling strikes in support of a substantial pay rise across the country Thursday as a decisive round of talks got under way near Berlin with their federal government and local authority employers.

The 1.3 million workers involved were geared for an all-out strike, the head of the Verdi services union, Frank Bsirske, told national public radio Deutschlandfunk, accusing the employers of presenting a "sham offer."

Verdi negotiations chief Achim Meerkamp was pessimistic ahead of a fifth and final round of talks in Potsdam on Thursday.

"We will try everything, but I say quite openly: I do not have the feeling that we will reach a deal," he told the daily Rheinische Post.

Meerkamp warned the union would move from regional strikes affecting only certain sectors to an all-out, unlimited strike after balloting members.

The employers' offer of up to 5 percent spread over two years accompanied by an increase in working hours was a "negative offer," Bsirke said, pointing to expected inflation well above this figure.

Verdi, Germany's second-largest union with 2.2 million members, is demanding a rise of 8 percent over one year, with a minimum rise of 200 euros (300 dollars) a month.

It has consistently raised the pressure in recent weeks, calling out nurses, refuse workers, airport workers, administrative staff and childcare professionals in rolling strikes lasting from an hour to a day.

The employers, headed by Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, have refused to budge from their offer, citing the precarious state of public finances.

The president of the local authority employers' association, Thomas Boehle, said acceding to Verdi's demand would be "irresponsible."

There would be no fresh offer from employers, he told national public television ARD.

The employers would also not withdraw their demand to increase the working week to 40 hours from the current 38.5, he said.

On Thursday, the strikes focused on the states of Bavaria, Baden- Wuerttemberg, Hesse and Saarland, hitting public transport, child daycare centers, garbage collection and administrative offices.

In a separate strike in Berlin, public transport workers continued an unlimited strike that began Wednesday, after Verdi secured a 96- percent mandate from its members in a strike ballot at the end of last month.

Underground train, bus and tram drivers and other workers are demanding a rise of up to 12 percent, while the city is offering a phased rise of 6 percent over two years.

Another unlimited strike looms from Monday on the state-owned national railway, Deutsche Bahn (DB).

A deal apparently struck after a dispute lasting almost a year has come unstuck, with train drivers in the GDL union accusing DB of reneging on its pledges.

Expatica with DPA

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