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Strikes Hit German Public Services Sector

Negotiations have failed to resolve a pay dispute between the state and public sector employees. Workers, mainly in hospitals throughout Germany, began warning strikes early Thursday, Feb. 14.

Garbage collectors bring bags of trash to a truck

German streets may look a bit shabby during a strike that includes garbage collectors

The strike began at 3:30 a.m. on Thursday when the early shift in hospitals in Saarland, Germany's smallest state, didn't start work. Thousands more workers followed suit in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, with more strikes expected elsewhere throughout the day, according to Germany's powerful trade union Verdi.

The union had called on its 1.3 million members employed in the public services sector to initiate warning strikes in support of an 8-percent increase in wages after a third round of talks ended without resolution on Tuesday.

Town halls, child daycare centers, garbage collection services and state savings banks are among the institutions impacted by the strikes, which could continue for several more days.

Health care givers looking after a patient in a hospital

Hospitals are particularly affected by the warning strikes

Hospitals are particularly affected, though a doctor's union said it would not be joining in the strikes. A Verdi spokesman, however, said that "no one will have to fear for their physical well being," as emergency care had been arranged for.

Minimum for the lowest earners

Verdi is demanding an 8-percent hike or a minimum increase of 200 euros ($290) per month over the next 12 months.

Public service employers have offered a five percent raise, with the increase to be implemented in three stages, and are insisting that a new contract run for two years. They also seek to increase the working week from 38.5 to 40 hours.

The trade union has refused the offer, claiming that its members would lose ground with such a deal, given the inflation rate of close to 3 percent a year.

Employers have accused the unions of pushing for a strike rather than working toward a negotiated solution.

"We have the feeling that it's all running according to a script," Manfred Hoffmann, the head of the municipal employers' association, said. He added that he had received information that trade unions, despite talks taking place at the time, were planning strikes last week.

The parties are to resume talks on Feb. 25, before which Verdi said it wanted to "put some real pressure on," according to Leni Breymaier, the union's head for the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Strike crippled commute in Berlin

At the beginning of February, Verdi called on Berlin's public transport workers to strike, which saw buses, trams and underground trains halt for 39 hours. The morning commute for hundreds of thousands of passengers was crippled, with commuters having to seek alternatives to get to work and school.

Commuters in Frankfurt waiting during a train drivers' strike last fall

A train drivers' strike last fall affected commuters in Frankfurt

The union noted that a bus driver in the German capital earns less than 1,900 euros a month, prompting yet another call for a substantial increase in real wages.

Steel workers in the western part of the country have also walked off the job. Their union, IG Metall, is likewise demanding an 8 percent increase in salaries for 85,000 people.

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