German public service workers step up pressure on pay
Thousands of workers walked off the job in token strikes.
Berlin -- Tens of thousands of workers in Germany's public services walked off the job for limited periods Tuesday in token strikes aimed at pressing local and federal authorities to accede to demands for higher pay.
The Verdi services union, Germany's second-largest union with a membership of some 2.2 million, claimed 70,000 had heeded a call for limited so-called "warning strikes."
In Berlin, around 1,000 federal government workers demonstrated in front of the Finance Ministry.
Verdi negotiating head Achim Meerkamp told the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper that the fifth round of talks with employers, set for Potsdam near Berlin on March 6, would be the last before the union balloted members on a strike.
"If we do not find a solution through negotiations, there will be a drawn-out conflict," Meerkamp said, adding the union was not prepared to go to arbitration to end the dispute.
In the northern naval port of Kiel, 1,000 naval staff joined the so-called "warning strikes," which are generally of short duration.
Town halls, child daycare centers and city cleaning services were also hit.
Verdi is demanding 8 percent more pay for 1.3 million workers, with an increase of 200 euros (290 dollars) a month for the lowest paid. The employers are offering 5 percent spread over two years and a simultaneous increase in the working week to 40 hours from 38.5 hours currently.
In a separate strike action in Berlin, Verdi is to ballot its members in the capital's public transport services on an unlimited strike in support of a wage demand of up to 12 percent for 11,500 workers.
The union shut down buses, trams and underground trains for 39 hours at the beginning of the month.
The BVG city transport concern has offered 6 percent.
German workers have seen real take-home pay stagnate, or even decline, in recent years in response to calls for wage restraint in the face of low growth.
Stronger economic growth of 2.9 percent in 2006 and 2.5 percent last year has provided ammunition for demands in various sectors for a substantial pay rise.
DPA with Expatica