German Labor Re-Think Raises Specter of French Protests | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.03.2006
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German Labor Re-Think Raises Specter of French Protests

As French police battled students protesting against flexible hire and fire laws, Germany's Social Democrat labor minister stunned coalition partners by stopping a similar measure agreed upon in Germany.


French connection? Müntefering is holding off on a labor reform

One of the grand coalition's first labor market reforms -- and the one most difficult for social democrats to swallow -- was the decision to allow companies to hire and fire employees during their first two years of employment.

Among those agreeing to the reform was new labor minister, and former head of the SPD party, Franz Müntefering. But in an article in Wednesday's Handelsblatt newspaper, Müntefering announced that he was stopping the reform, accusing the conservative parties of wanting too much.

"I stopped it after parts of the Union parties began taking steps away from this point in the coalition agreement," he wrote.

Unions invoke French protests

Conservative Economics Minister Michael Glos said earlier in the week that the dismantling of Germany's strict job protection laws doesn't go far enough, echoing similar complaints in parts of the Christian Democratic Union, and Christian Social Union parties.

Frau mit Notebook und Handy auf einem Flughafen

Unions against loosening job protection laws

The prospect has inflamed union representatives. Michael Sommer, the head of the DGB union association, said that the same things French students are yelling into their microphones during the last two weeks of protest could be said in Germany.

"What is being fought against in France, is being planned here," said Sommer, in a newspaper interview.

Sommer and union representatives argue that the two year probation period puts workers in an uncertain situation and makes it difficult for them to get a bank loan or an apartment contract. He has called for the governing coalition to further consider the job-protection laws reached in the coalition agreement.

Merkel, Union urge patience

Sommer's concerns received some support from current SPD head Hubertus Heil.

"We don't want a hire and fire society," Heil said earlier this week, responding to Glos's comments.

Angela Merkel

Merkel wants to end speculation

Conservative politicians were surprised at Müntefering's announcement. The economics expert in the CDU parliamentary faction said that the issue was still up for discussion. Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared a bit exasperated.

"Let's just first take a look at what we've agreed to do," she said in response to the speculation.

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