The biggest public sector strike in German in more than a decade was quietly resolved on Friday when state officials and union negotiators reached a wage agreement following two days of talks
"The system is sick" -- doctors are holding out for their own agreement
The strike lasted a total of 14 weeks and, at its height, saw tens of thousands of public sector workers walk off the job. In some cities, garbage was left to pile up in the street, and kindergartens and day care centers were shut. In hospitals across the country, non-urgent operations were postponed as doctors and clinic workers took to the streets in protest of poor working conditions.
The conflict began in February after state employers attempted to increase the number of working hours per week from 38.5 to 40 without additional pay. Talk of cuts in holidays and Christmas bonuses also infuriated public sector workers.
In Stuttgart, garbage filled the streets at the height of the strike
But the three-month dispute ended quietly in Potsdam on Friday evening, with union representatives acknowledging the need for more flexible labor conditions. The deal reached affects public sector workers in 14 of Germany's federal states -- Berlin and Hesse were excluded. Negotiators said the deal will allow the number of working hours per week to vary between 38.5 and 40 hours depending on the worker's income and which state they live in. In the eastern states, the 40-hour week will remain in place, while many workers in the western states can expect to work less in future. An across the board wage hike of 2.9 percent can first be expected in 2008.
Doctors want own contract
Hartmut Möllring, the head negotiator for 14 German states, said that he assumed the agreement also meant that the ongoing conflict with the country's university clinic doctors had been resolved.
"We had already made the doctors a fair offer," he told German public broadcaster NDR. "This included the promise that a doctor in his or her first year would have 510 euros ($650) more in their pocket than they do today."
However, the head of the Marburger Bund physicians' union warned against trying to apply the new wage agreement to doctors. The Marburger Bund has demanded its own contract, better working conditions and higher salaries for doctors working in university clinics and state hospitals.
On Friday, thousands of doctors participated in nationwide walk-outs, escalating what has become the biggest healthcare sector strike Germany has ever seen.
"We will have to consider exactly what we can do and what we have to do and one possibility would be for a closure of practices over a longer period of time," Maximilian Zollner, the chairman of the NAV-Virchow-Bund association, told reporters.