Germany's public sector is facing large scale industrial action for the first time in more than a decade. Public workers expanded their week-old work stoppage on Monday in a dispute over longer hours.
The public-sector strike is getting bigger -- and noisier
This first widespread stoppage in 14 years has targeted trash collection, child care facilities, hospitals and road works, and on Monday, public workers in nine of Germany's 14 federal states walked off the job, compared to only two last week.
The regions effected by the strike include Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, home to some 17 million people. However, not all workers are striking simultaneously, which has limited the disruption.
The strike started a week ago in the state of Baden-Württemberg and was called by the public sector union ver.di to prevent the employers from extending the working week from 38.5 to 40 hours.
In a strike ballot, 94.5 percent of ver.di members voted in favor of industrial action.
"There could not have been a more decisive outcome of this ballot or a more decisive vote in favor a strike," said the head of the public-service union, Frank Bsirske.
Despite negotiations on the weekend between unions and employers, no agreement was reached.
Can't dictate work hours
Bsirske told the mass circulation tabloid Bild on Monday that strikes would continue until employers realized that they could not dictate to their staff how long should they should work.
A 40-hour week would mean extending the working day by 18 minutes. Bsirske says this may not sound like much, but is equivalent to working an extra two weeks a year without pay.
He also accused the employers of using longer working hours as an excuse to cut jobs, of which he said a quarter of a million were at risk.
Speaking for employers, the finance minister of the state of Lower Saxony, Hartmut Möllring, recalled that Germany's public sector worked a forty-hour week until 1989. That was acceptable in those days, he said, when local authorities, relatively speaking, had plenty of money at their disposal. It should also be acceptable now, he added.
He also pointed out a forty-hour week was already being worked in eastern Germany. Möllring emphasised that workers in the public sector had secure jobs.
"Surely a secure job is worth working an extra 18 minutes a day," Möllring said.
Bsirske dismisses the secure jobs argument as fiction. In child-care facilities and hospitals, almost three quarters of all workers are on short-term contracts, he explained. He warned local and regional authorities that the union had funds to support a strike lasting "many weeks."