German unions stage nationwide protest

23rd October 2006, Comments 0 comments

23 October 2006, Berlin (dpa) - More than 100,000 people took part in a nationwide protest this weekend against the reform programme of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition government. "I advise the government not to ignore the warning coming from the centre of our society," said Michael Sommer, head of the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), which organized the demonstration. "No one can expect us to stand by and do nothing when the interests of ordinary people, the socially weak and tho

23 October 2006

Berlin (dpa) - More than 100,000 people took part in a nationwide protest this weekend against the reform programme of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition government.

"I advise the government not to ignore the warning coming from the centre of our society," said Michael Sommer, head of the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), which organized the demonstration.

"No one can expect us to stand by and do nothing when the interests of ordinary people, the socially weak and those with jobs, are being abused," Sommer said in Stuttgart, one of five cities where rallies were held. The others were Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Dortmund.

The unions are protesting at what they call "socially unjust" plans by the government to reform the ailing health care system, increase the value-added tax, lower company tax and raise the retirement age as part of a programme to boost the economy and bring Germany's finances in order.

Germany plans to raise VAT from 16 per cent to 19 per cent in January and introduce a phased increase of the retirement age from 65 to 67. Changes to the pubic health care system next year are expected to result in an increase in contributions by employees.

"The government is making a gift of billions of euros in taxes to employers by taking it out of the pockets of workers through the increase in VAT," Sommer said in reference to the reductions in company taxes.

The DGB action comes amid a debate in Germany about poverty and growing social and economic divisions in Europe's biggest economy.

A recent survey conducted for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation showed that 8 percent of Germans, or 6.5 million, felt they were being "ostracized" and left behind in society.

"There are far too many people who have lost hope that they will advance in society," according to Kurt Beck, chairman of Merkel's coalition partner, the Social Democrats.

People in poor families used to live in hope that their "children should have it better," but that attitude was changing, Beck said in a newspaper interview.

Some politicians believe the slide into poverty started with the so-called Harz IV labour reforms introduced by the SPD-led government of Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schroeder and maintained by the current coalition.

The reforms, named after the man who devised them, former Volkswagen executive Peter Harz, contain a provision restricting the length of time people out of work can claim unemployment benefit.

"What's new is that people in the middle class are now affected," said deputy DGB chairwoman Ingrid Sehrbrock. "There is a danger of them losing their job and falling into poverty."

DPA

Subject: German news

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