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Germany poisedfor strikes

28 January 2004

FRANKFURT – Germany’s powerful metalworkers union IG Metall was poised Wednesday to start a wave of warning strikes in pressing its wage hike demands, but insisted on its readiness to achieve a “fair compromise” with employers.

Work stoppages were planned at factories in several states around the country, affecting such prominent firms as DaimlerChrysler, Bosch Elektronik and Osram starting after midnight Wednesday when a four- week truce period expires.

IG Metall is demanding a 4 percent pay increase under a 12-month wage deal for some 3.5 million workers in Germany’s key metal engineering and electronics sectors.

Employers are offering 1.2 percent pay increases in stages over 27 months, while also seeking to raise the working week back to 40 hours, from the current 35 hours, without additional pay.

In an interview in the tabloid paper Bild, IG Metall deputy chairman Berthold Huber insisted the union’s demands were not excessive and that his side was willing to compromise.

“We are not keen on a strike and we will seek a fair compromise,” Huber said.

He said the 4 percent pay hike demand was within reason if one considered that worker productivity is projected to rise 1.8 percent, with inflation projected at 2 percent.

“The decisive point is that we are not stuck with the risk of inflation and that we gain a fair share of the economic progress,” Huber said, adding that “you can forget any upswing” in the German economy if workers are left out, in turn affecting private demand.

But critics of the union’s pay demands warn that they could hurt the prospects for German economic recovery.

“The recovery is now standing on unsteady legs,” said Michael Heise, chief economist for the Allianz insurance concern, told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel. “If it now also comes to a high wage agreement, it could turn dangerous.”

The president of the prestigious Berlin-based economic research institute DIW, Klaus Zimmermann, warned against a wage conflict, saying this would pose “a further threat” to the German economy.

For IG Metall, the wage demands are the first major test after the union’s disastrous campaign in the summer of 2003 to try to force a reduction of the working week in eastern Germany to 35 hours.

That campaign of hit-and-run strikes, chiefly against automotive components suppliers, had to be called off as employers stood firm and public opinion turned against the union when car factories in western Germany began to be forced to shut down for a lack of parts.

Talks between employers and IG Metall on a new wage accord got started in early January. They will be resumed next week.

Subject: German news