VW wage talks resume as thousands join strikes
1 November 2004 , HANOVER - Management at Volkswagen embarked on a new round of wage talks with union leaders Monday as thousands of workers took part in warning strikes at the German car maker. The talks in Hanover were seen as crucial if the threat of an all-out stoppage was to be avoided at Europe's largest car manufacturer. More than 15,000 workers at plants across western Germany downed tools for a series of brief warning strikes and demonstrations to press their claims for a pay rise and job guarant
1 November 2004
HANOVER - Management at Volkswagen embarked on a new round of wage talks with union leaders Monday as thousands of workers took part in warning strikes at the German car maker.
The talks in Hanover were seen as crucial if the threat of an all-out stoppage was to be avoided at Europe's largest car manufacturer.
More than 15,000 workers at plants across western Germany downed tools for a series of brief warning strikes and demonstrations to press their claims for a pay rise and job guarantees.
Hartmut Meine, chief negotiator for the IG Metall union, the country's second largest labour union, said the sixth round of wage talks would be decisive in signalling whether an agreement could be reached.
A breakdown of the talks could lead to full-scale strikes, the metalworkers' union has indicated. Meine said the warning strikes would continue Tuesday if the wage talks continued to stall.
The deadlock in the dispute led to German President Horst Koehler calling Monday for both sides to overcome their differences quickly, saying the outcome of the talks would be significant for Germany's future as a car-producing nation.
"I think we all have an interest in seeing this conflict ended as soon as possible," he said at a reception in Hanover.
The dispute comes amid turbulent times for German car makers with US auto giant General Motors planning to cut as many as 10,000 jobs at Opel Germany as it seeks to slash its costs by EUR 500 million a year.
The announcement led two weeks ago to wildcat strikes at Opel's Bochum plant which in turn disrupted production at the Opel factory in Ruesselsheim and elsewhere in Germany and Europe.
Volkswagen, which has just announced a cut in profits for the first nine months of this year, is meanwhile seeking to reduce its labour costs by EUR 2 billion, or 30 percent, by 2011 to retain competitiveness.
It wants a two-year wage freeze for the 103,000 VW workers in the company's six western German plants, saying it is the only way it can guarantee jobs.
The union is pressing for job guarantees plus wage rises which it has now scaled back to 2 percent from an original demand of some 4 percent.
VW's chief negotiator at the wage talks, Josef-Fidelis Senn, called for greater movement from the union towards reaching a deal at Monday's talks enabling the company to cut its costs.
In Monday's warning strikes, 6,000 workers downed tools at the Baunatal plant near Kassel, while 3,000 each left their jobs at Braunschweig and Emden, union representatives said. A similar stoppage and demonstration was also held at Salzgitter.
The warning strikes began on Friday after a fifth round of talks between management and unions ended without success.
Failure to reach a deal at the sixth round could lead to the union calling for a first full-scale strike at the company.
But IG Metall vice president Berthold Huber played down the prospect of an all-out strike. He told Monday's daily newspaper Maerkische Allgemeine: "We don't want a strike. We want a solution at the negotiating table. Only when no acceptable agreement is reached here will the strike question arise."
It is thought the two sides would like to reach agreement before the next supervisory board meeting on 12 November.
Volkswagen last week reported a 65 percent drop in third- quarter net profit from the same period a year ago. For the first nine months its operational profit before extraordinary items was down 20 percent over last year to EUR 1.46 billion.
Subject: German news