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Record year for strikes

May 14, 2015

Germany has been hit by an unprecedented wave of industrial action this year, an economic think tank has said. Labor disputes across multiple sectors have weighed on Europe's largest economy.

Striking kindergarten teachers
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Wagner

German workers have already been on strike for twice as many days this year as they were in the whole of 2014, putting Europe's largest economy on course to set a new record for industrial action, a researcher for a conservative think tank said in a newspaper interview on Thursday.

Hagen Lesch, who crunched the numbers at the employer-friendly German Economic Institute (IW) in Cologne, told the "Rheinische Post" daily that there had been some 350,000 strike days in Germany from January to mid-May. In 2014, the government recorded 150,000 days lost to strikes.

"2015 should be a record year for strikes as 2006 was before," Lesch said, citing job walk-offs by pilots, train drivers, post office workers and kindergarten and nursery teachers, as well as in metal and electronics industries.

Labor spats

Last Sunday, the country's longest-ever rail strike came to end after 138 hours. It was the eighth time in 10 months that train drivers had walked off the job over demands of a 5-percent wage hike and more bargaining power for niche unions.

Economists have pondered the financial impact of the rail chaos. One expert at BayernLB bank said the week-long strike may have cost Deutsche Bahn, Germany's railway operator, around 750 million euros ($855.7 million).

In the postal sector, allegations have surfaced over the use of scare tactics to persuade workers to return to their jobs. After hearing reports of mid-level managers at the Deutsche Post mail and logistics company threatening to terminate some striking workers, Sigmar Gabriel, the head of the government's junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, implored Deutsche Post's chief executive, Frank Appel, to maintain labor standards.

Gabriel demanded "unconditional respect for both personal and collective labor rights," noting the federal government's 21-percent stake in the company, which he suggested lent the situation more gravity, according to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper.

Cash-strapped capital

Wednesday's calls for postal workers to continue their strike was just the latest in a series of walkouts. Last Friday, daycare center staff walked off the job in a number of states and money couriers at a local security company near Berlin have been refusing to refill cash machines in and around the capital, leaving residents and visitors hard pressed to fill their wallets.

There was, however, a glimmer of hope in the aviation industry as pilots with Germany's flagship carrier, Lufthansa, agreed to a truce with their employer after twelve rounds of strikes.

The pilots' union, "Vereinigung Cockpit," said in a statement that it would refrain from calling its members to action until at least the end of July.

cjc/ng (dpa, AFP, Reuters)