Civil servants in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg went on strike on Monday, protesting longer working hours. It is the first widespread public-sector strike in 14 years and threatens to grow larger.
The strike began early Monday when garbage collectors walked off the job
Hospitals, pre-schools and administration offices were affected, and trash was not collected, according to the service industry trade union ver.di. About 10,000 workers are expected to picket and union officials have said they are prepared for a four to six-week action.
The dispute centers on efforts by public-service employers to extend the working week for employees from 38.5 to 40 hours without a concomitant rise in pay. Ver.di says this amounts to a salary cut of 4 percent.
The union wants to force the regional authorities to implement public-service wage accords that were due to take effect in Oct. 2005. In a strike vote, almost 95 percent of union members came out in favor of a work stoppage.
"On the one hand Germany has five million unemployed and on the other the employers want to prolong the working week for those newly employed," ver.di chief Frank Bsirske said, arguing that this would increase unemployment further.
ver.di chief Frank Bsirske
In a radio interview over the weekend, Bsirske said the union would not be dictated to by employers and accused them of trying to entrench longer working hours across the whole economy.
Last week civil servants in the northern state of Lower Saxony went on strike against the measures and staged protest marches.
Ver.di members subsequently voted by a large majority on extending the strike and Bsirske has warned that it could spread throughout the country. Workers in other states -- Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Saarland and Saxony -- are set to vote this week whether to stage stoppages as early as next Monday.
Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that Germany's public administration could no longer afford a 38.5-hour week.
"The coffers are empty," he said. "There's no room to maneuver."
The German public-service sector has some 4.7 million workers, of whom 1.7 million are considered fully fledged civil servants.