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Business

German Auto Industry Strikes to End

Trade union leaders and employers failed to resolve the battle over the 35-hour working week in the eastern German auto industry. The strikes that had stopped production on German assembly lines will be called off.

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Blown the whistle: Union leaders say the IG Metall strike failed

Germany's engineering and metalworker union, IG Metall, plans to put an end to strikes four weeks after eastern German auto industry workers first laid down their tools. Following 16 hours of negotiations, the trade union and employers announced on Saturday morning they had failed to reach agreement in the dispute over reducing the work week from 38 to 35 hours in eastern Germany. The move would have brought practices in line with those of western Germany.

"The bitter truth is the strike failed," IG Metall head Klaus Zwickel said on Saturday. He said strikes should be called off on Monday. Zwickel and the union's chief negotiator, Hasso Düvel, called the failure a defeat and said there was no point in continuing the strikes anymore.

Both union leaders and employers blamed each other for the failure to reach agreement. "We think the employers have missed a big chance," Düvel said early Saturday. Martin Kannegiesser, head of the metals and engineering employers federation Gesamtmetall, said the union's proposal was unreasonable.

IG Metall had called for a range of working hours from 35 to 40 hours a week that would reflect the individual economic needs of the different companies. Union negotiators said the 35-hour work week could be introduced over differing timeframes, with full implementation by 2009.

But employers were reticent. They too suggested parameters from 35 to 40 hours as well as an across-the-board reduction of working times to 37 hours in April 2005. But they rejected the gradual introduction of the 35-hour week and said any further harmonization with western working hours should depend on the productivity of the eastern German plants.

The strikes, which involved 8,000 union members, had led to work stoppages on BMW and Volkswagen assembly lines in western Germany as well because necessary components from the eastern states could not be delivered.

Union defeat

For the first time since 1954, IG Metall failed to meet its strike aims.

The union will now pursue agreements with individual companies in the metal and electronics industry. It has already completed deals with nine firms in Saxony, none of which belong to employers associations. Most of the agreements foresee a full implementation of the 35-hour work week by 2009.

IG Metall's insistence on cutting working hours in the eastern German states -- where nearly 18 percent of the workforce is unemployed -- has been criticized by business leaders in past weeks, some of whom feared the actions could badly damage the fragile economy in the formerly communist part of Germany. Some 310,000 people work are employed in the eastern German engineering and metal industry.

"What IG-Metall is doing in the [eastern] states is destroying jobs," opposition Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel told the German public television broadcaster ARD last month.

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