The southern German state of Baden-Württemberg reached a breakthrough deal with the powerful Verdi trade union that may put an end to Germany's worst public sector labor dispute in 14 years.
The strike will not be officially over until trade union members cast ther votes
A two-month-long strike in Germany's public service sector seemed to be heading towards a resolution after workers in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg reached a wage deal with the regional government on Wednesday.
Leaders of the powerful trade union Verdi and state authorities agreed to a new labor model, which stipulates the extension of the working week from 38.5 to 39 hours.
"From May 1, 2006, nobody in communal public sector will have to work 40 hours a week," said Verdi negotiator Alfred Wohlfart.
For the strike to be officially over, at least 25 percent of union members in more than 200 public sector companies will have to vote in favor of the deal. The voting will start on Thursday and the final results should be known by Monday.
If verified, the 39-hour working week will be guaranteed until the end of 2007.
A harsh compromise
German cities affected by the strike have been decorated by overflowing trash cans
KAV communal employers' association head Gerhard Widder described the deal as a "harsh compromise."
"The time of declining working hours in the public sector in Germany is over," Widder said. "The train is going in the opposite direction."
According to Widder, however, the agreement was not entirely satisfactory for employers.
"We wanted to achieve more," Widder said.
The strike has affected 10 of the country's 16 states since it began in early February. At the height of the strike last month some 30,000 workers downed tools, disrupting hospitals, schools and administrative offices.
No more trash?
The 39-hour working week is a hard-won compromise
The Baden-Württemberg deal may put an end to the strike which turned a series of otherwise pristine German cities into ever-expanding trash depots. The labor dispute posed a test for Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel, exposing divisions in her coalition government with the Social Democrats.
The trade union called the strike in protest of state plans to extend the working week from 38.5 hours to 40 hours without additional pay, claiming that it amounted to a four-percent pay cut.
The union argued that longer working hours would lead to tens of thousands of job cuts, while the cash-strapped states countered that the measure was an essential step toward plugging holes in the public coffers.
About 4.7 million people are employed in Germany's public sector.