The first round of wage talks in the German engineering and metalworking sectors ended Wednesday with no sign of an early agreement being reached in what are likely to prove long and difficult negotiations.
"Only fair: 5 percent more," reads the sign behind IG Metall head Peters
On the first day of talks for the regions of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and the Saarland, the powerful IG Metall simply laid out its position, a spokesman for the employers' federation Hessen-Metall, Ulrich Kirsch, said.
The employers would in turn stake out their position at the next round on March 10.
Separate wage talks for other regional states are scheduled to begin over the next few days, with the negotiations for Baden-Württemberg, which usually act as a pilot for the rest of the country, due to begin on Feb. 14.
The engineering and metalworking sectors are among the most important in Germany and any deal there acts as a benchmark for other sectors.
Fears of "job exodus"
In 2004, workers went on strike with demands of a 2 percent wage increase
But with labor union IG Metall demanding wage increases of 5 percent for the 3.4 million workers in industries ranging from cars to semi-conductors and employers not ruling out zero-wage increases, the negotiations this year could well lead to head-on confrontation.
"We want to keep jobs in Germany," said the chief negotiator for the employers, Heinrich Fischer. "Wage increases of 5 percent would lead to an exodus of jobs."
IG Metall deputy chief Berthold Huber insisted on German public television that the union's demands were manageable.
Even small and medium-sized companies, which make up most of the sector, had booked strong earnings in the past few years, Huber said.
Union wants rapid agreement
They're still working -- for now
IG Metall has insisted it wants to reach a rapid agreement and the union's chief Jürgen Peters urged employers to table an offer before the four-week truce period, where any sort of industrial action is banned, ends.
Huber insisted the unions were not hell-bent on confrontation.
"But if there's no other way, we'll know how to defend ourselves," Huber said.
The current sector-wide wage agreement runs until Feb. 28, after which workers are not allowed to take any industrial action for a so-called truce period of four weeks.