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Germany

Service Sector Strikes Spread Through German States

Germany's biggest public sector strikes since the early 1990s spread when workers at the university hospital in Frankfurt stopped work, making the state of Hesse the 12th to join in with industrial action.

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The number of strike supporters is growing by the day as public services grind to a halt

Around 41,000 public sector workers took to the streets across the country on Thursday, swelling the previous day's figures by around 10,000. Protestors were heading rallying calls against plans by some state and local authorities to increase the working week from 38.5 hours to 40 or more and to cut Christmas and holiday bonuses.

Around 6,000 teachers represented by the GEW union also held demonstrations outside kindergartens, schools and universities in Berlin Thursday, further boosting the numbers of protestors on the German streets.

The strikes have been gaining momentum in their fifth week and the turnout on the day before the services union Verdi was due to hold talks with employers was an obvious sign of the growing discontent around Germany at the idea of extending working hours.

The industrial action is also making a visible impact on German cities and towns, where piles of uncollected rubbish are growing and kindergartens, hospitals and public administration services are becoming increasingly disrupted.

While union and employer negotiators are due to hold talks on Friday, prospects of reaching a deal look slim, especially since Verdi rejected an offer from municipal employers in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg on Wednesday which the employers said went to "the absolute limit."

Warring sides show no sign of securing a deal

Öffentlicher Dienst streikt weiter

Verdi's Frank Bsirske rallies a crowd of protestors

"I'm skeptical," Hartmut Möllring, chief negotiator for Tarifgemeinschaft der Länder (TdL), the state employers' umbrella organization, told reporters when asked about the prospects of a deal being reached by the end of this week.

The employers' organization has been accused by Verdi of deliberately dragging the conflict out in a bid to make the strike unpopular and to overshadow the protestors' objectives.

According to the BDB banking association, whose 200 member banks include Deutsche Bank AG and HVB Group, a prolonged disruption of services would also pose a risk to a domestic economy that's recovering after five years of stagnation.

"The policy of Möllring and company threatens the interests of hundreds of thousands. It's a declaration of war against the people in this country," Verdi chief Frank Bsirske told a demonstration attended by around 20,000 people in Hanover. The union says the move would endanger the jobs of some 250,000 part time and trainee workers.

Strikes gaining support in engineering sector

The services dispute is already beginning to spread to other areas of German industry, namely the engineering sector, the country's biggest, with 3.4 million employees.

Demonstration bei Daimler in Sindelfingen

The strikes could massively grow if the powerful IG Metall union joins

Engineering union IG Metall has been calling brief walkouts during shifts ever since pay contracts ran out on Feb. 28. Last week, 10,000 workers from DaimlerChrysler and Bosch in Baden-Württemberg left their posts to join the protest.

The engineering and metal workers may extend their action by staging one-day strikes after March 28, the day a so-called peace period barring unlimited protests expires, unless a new wage agreement is reached in the next three weeks.

As well as disrupting industry and services, the strikes could have a political impact, with state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in the southwest and in Saxony-Anhalt in the east to be held on March 26, the first since the grand coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democrats took power in November.

In an interview in Berlin on Thursday, Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the free market liberal Free Democratic Party, the largest opposition group in the national parliament, said the government has "encouraged" the strikes by "unilaterally" raising taxes and ending tax breaks.

Westerwelle said decisions by Merkel's government to increase value-added tax, end homebuyers' subsidies and reduce tax breaks for holiday work and commuters are adding to workers' "grief."

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