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Business

Strike Spreads to Berlin and Brandenburg

Worker’s in Germany’s metal and engineering industry extended their strike to two more eastern states on Tuesday to push through demands for cutting their workweek down to the 35 hours currently enjoyed in the West.

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Workers at the DaimlerChrysler plant in Ludwigsfelde in Brandenburg striked on Tuesday

Germany’s engineering and metalworkers union, IG Metall, on Tuesday extended the regional-wide strike for a reduction of the workweek to the states of Berlin and Brandenburg. After workers in Saxony laid down their tools at the end of May, IG Metall unionists in the two other eastern German states joined forces in demanding a shortening of their workweek to the 35 hours currently required of their colleagues in the West.

"By spreading the strike, we want to increase pressure on employers in order to reach an acceptable agreement," IG Metall vice-president Jürgen Peters said on Monday.

East-West divide

"13 years after Germany’s unification there is still a difference between the eastern and western workweek," Peters told reporters. For the same pay, engineering and metal workers in the East are required to work 38 hours, whereas their colleagues in the West only put in 35 hours.

The discrepancy between East and West needs to be corrected, the union leader said and called for the gradual reduction of the workweek to the western level.

Since the strikes started two weeks ago, some 11,000 people in 10 companies in Saxony and five in Berlin and Brandenburg have taken to the picket line. The engineering and metal working sector employs around 310,000 people in Germany’s former communist East. The strikes have hit some of the region’s biggest employers including the Bombardier plant in Görlitz and the Volkswagen plant in Zwickau.

No agreement in sight

So far, though, there seems to be no end in sight as both IG Metall and representatives for the Engineering and Metal Employer’s Federation fail to come to an agreement.

Employers in the economically-depressed East claim the work stoppages are unfair because the factories in the region are less productive than in the West. A reduction of the workweek to western levels is not possible until the "economic productivity of the eastern German metal and electronics industry meets the western level," the Eastern German Employer’s Federation said in a statement on Monday.

The industry’s employers are backed by some of the country’s leading economic analysts. Speaking in the Berliner Zeitung on Tuesday, Thomas Straubhaar of the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWA) said the reduced productivity in a 35-hour workweek coupled with the increase in non-wage labor costs would be too much for eastern German companies to handle. He feared bankruptcy and massive job cuts would be the result.

The ifo-Institute in Dresden echoed such concerns and said that a shortened work week would only be sustainable once eastern German companies become as productive as their western counterparts. "This could take as long as 30 years," Marcel Thum, the director of the institute, told the paper.

Even Germany’s Minister for Economics and Labor, Wolfgang Clement, has said that the strike for a 35-hour workweek was harmful to the economy. "The conflict comes at the wrong time in the completely wrong place," he said in this week’s edition of Stern magazine.

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