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German labor court rules preachers can join picket line

Germany's Federal Labor Court has ruled in favor of two trade unions arguing that church employees should be allowed to strike. Both sides had argued their cases using different articles of the German constitution.

A large, stone crucifix (in Madrid) against a blue sky.

Symbolbild Religion Christentum Kreuz

People working for German churches should be theoretically permitted to go on strike, the country's top labor court ruled on Tuesday. The decision would permit more than 1.2 million church employees to launch industrial actions if they choose to.

The case pitted the ver.di and Marburger Bund trade unions against a string of major regional protestant churches and smaller dioceses - with both sides using Germany's constitutionally enshrined basic laws to make their case.

The Federal Labor Court decision reinforced two regional rulings in Hamm and Hamburg, also saying church employees should have the right to strike.

Both sides had previously said they would consider lodging an appeal at Germany's constitutional court if they lost.

Contradictions in the constitution

The trade unions' case was based upon the constitutionally enshrined right to freely organize and protest, but the churches pointed to an article in the constitution stating that religious organizations should have the right to decide on their own affairs without political interference.

Previously, all pay disputes within churches were solved after mutual negotiations, though some employees argued that their inability to strike made these talks ineffective.

The president of the church-affiliated Caritas charity, Peter Neher, described the existing negotiating system as appropriate and said it had proved itself effective over time. Frank Bsirske, the head of ver.di, Germany's largest trade union, described the system as pre-democratic.

msh/dr (dpa, epd, KNA)