11 February 2004
FRANKFURT – German metalworkers and employers Wednesday began a crucial round of wage talks, amid fears the dispute could escalate into a damaging strike campaign.
A sixth round of regional talks got underway in Pforzheim, in the industrial state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the state, which traditionally serves as a pilot for wage settlements in the rest of the country.
As the talks were getting started, both sides – Frankfurt-based metalworkers union IG Metall and the employers group Gesamtmetall – said the Pforzheim meeting could be crucial.
“If we do not go a long way down the road today, then I don’t see any possibility for averting a major strike conflict,” said Otmar Zwiebelhofer on the employers’ side, while insisting that employers want an agreement.
Joerg Hofmann, head of IG Metall for Baden-Wuerttemberg, also insisted on the union’s hopes for a deal.
“Our goal is to reach a result,” he said. “There has been enough probing. Now the two sides have to start moving.”
IG Metall is seeking a one-year, 4 percent pay rise for some 3.5 million workers in the metals engineering and electronics sectors.
Gesamtmetall has offered two 1.2 percent increases over a 27- month period, coupled with a clause to permit employers on an ad hoc basis to increase working hours to up to 40 hours a week at no extra pay. The current work week in western Germany is 35 hours.
IG Metall over recent weeks has staged a series of warning strikes around the country, briefly pulling tens of thousands of workers off their jobs to step up the pressure on employers.
At a rally at an Opel car factory in the city of Kaiserslautern on Wednesday, IG Metall boss Juergen Peters rejected the working hours demand by employers, saying that “at least 440,000 workers” would become unemployed through it.
“If the employers stick to their jobkiller and wage reduction programme, then there will be no solution reached with IG Metall,” he told a rally of some 2,800 at the Opel plant.
Gesamtmetall boss Martin Kannegiesser meanwhile expressed scepticism about reaching an agreement.
“This is going to be very difficult,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio. “We are very far apart in our ideas.”
Under German collective bargaining procedures, if no progress is seen in wage talks at the various levels, the national leadership of IG Metall can declare a breakdown of the negotiations and then call a vote of the members over whether to wage all-out strike action.
Subject: German news