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Business

German Metalworkers Launch Warning Strikes

Metal and electrical industry workers began warning strikes in several states Thursday, after employers rejected union demands for a pay increase. Economists say the strikes could endanger the recovering economy.

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IG Metall is making sure its demands are heard.

Shortly after midnight workers across the country downed tools as part of a series of warning strikes organized by the country’s largest industrial union, IG Metall. Representing around 3.4 million workers in the manufacturing sector, IG Metall called for the strikes after several rounds of negotiations failed to bring about a new wage agreement.

Early estimates say several thousand workers in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Lower Saxony and Berlin participated in the selective work stoppages. At the DaimlerChrysler plant in Sindelfingen in southwestern Germany the assembly line came to a complete standstill as 1,000 employees stopped working for an hour.

The night shifts at several other major companies including Bosch, Epcos, Infineon, Osram and Continental were also affected by the strikes. IG Metall says the round of warning strikes is scheduled to continue through the first week in February.

Wage increase, fewer hours

The union had threatened to organize warning strikes since talks with industry representatives unraveled late last week. Employers had offered a 1.2 percent pay increase over the next 27 months, but IG Metall rejected it, saying it was far below the union’s demands of 4 percent increase over 12 months.

The employer’s association had also tied the pay raise to the introduction of contracts allowing for a flexible work "corridor" of between 35 and 40 hours without an increase in wage -- a demand IG Metall categorically rejected as a "slap in the face" and a "provocation."

Warnstreik bei Daimler Chrysler

Strikers at a DaimlerChrysler plant in Mannheim.

The return to a 40-hour work week, after unions had fought hard for reducing the week to between 35 and 38 hours, would cost the manufacturing sector at least 400,000 jobs, says IG Metall Vice President Berthold Huber.

The head of the Gesamtmetall employers' association, Martin Kannegiesser, has dismissed IG Metall’s criticisms as proof that the union is not willing to be flexible and work with industry to establish tariff guidelines that would benefit economic recovery.

Strikes dampen recovery

Several leading economic institutes are also of the opinion that the union’s warning strikes and insistence on a significant pay increases could endanger the still tentative signs of Germany’s economic recovery. According to a survey conducted by the Berliner Zeitung, the Kiel Institute for World Economics (IfW Kiel) and the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWA) have both criticized IG Metall for putting jobs at risk.

Roland Dährn from the Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research in Essen said a wage increase of two percent would be ideal. "That would encourage more hiring," he told the newspaper. A strike, however, would put everything on hold and slow down recovery, he said. Joachim Scheide from IfW maintained that anything above a 2 percent pay raise would have a negative affect on the economy.

Eckhardt Wohlers from HWWA pointed out that IG Metall wage tariffs were traditionally regarded as the model for negotiations in the rest of industry. "When the metalworkers agree on more than 2 percent, it sends a sign to all other branches to do the same," he said warning that an industry-wide increase would severely hinder Germany’s competitive advantage and cost even more jobs at a time when the country is just beginning to pull itself out of recession.

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