Doctors at German university clinics and state hospitals voted by an overwhelming majority Wednesday to begin a nationwide strike this week for better pay and working conditions.
The Marburger Bund physicians' union said that 98.4 percent of the some 22,000 doctors cast a ballot for the walkout beginning Thursday.
"The hospital doctors are sending a clear message that they are no longer prepared to work under intolerable conditions," Armin Ehl of Marburger Bund said.
Ehl accused the state employers' association of failing to table a reasonable salary increase during a round of talks last week. The union is calling for a 30-percent pay hike as well as stricter limits on working hours and full compensation for overtime.
Docs complain of lower pay, more working hours
The strikes are to begin Thursday in university clinics in eight cities across the country before being expanded in the coming days and weeks, the Marburger Bund said.
The chairman of the union, Frank-Ulrich Montgomery, told RBB public radio that the walkouts would not hit all state hospitals at once, to ensure that patients who needed it could receive care.
"Emergencies will continue to be handled -- we cannot simply leave patients on respirators or similar cases to fend for themselves," he said.
The union has noted that comparable countries in the European Union paid far higher salaries and argued that the only way to stop a mass flight of doctors was to raise the pay scale, noting that some 6,300 German hospital physicians had already left to work abroad.
The move comes amid a public sector strike in several German states over longer working hours that has hit key services such as child care and garbage collection.