Tens of thousands of public sector workers in Germany have gone on strike amid a spat between unions and the government over wage increases. The European Central Bank is watching the drama closely.
Two of Germany's biggest labor unions organized a second day of "warning" strikes on Wednesday as they tried to pile on pressure ahead of a fresh round of labor negotiations with the government.
Services union Verdi said more than 25,000 of its public sector members in six states walked out on Wednesday, while the German Civil Servants' Union (dbb) said thousands of its members stopped working in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state.
Hospitals, sanitation facilities, public kindergartens and public administration offices were among the services affected. The southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg experienced some of the most severe disruptions.
Thousands of people were forced to arrange alternative transport as public transport in many cities, including the North Rhine-Westphalian capital of Dusseldorf, came to a standstill.
Verdi strikers in the eastern German city of Frankfurt Oder carried signs reading: "We are worth it"
The unions called the strikes, which began on Tuesday, to push the federal and communal governments to increase wages for some 2.3 million public sector workers by 6 percent or, at a minimum, by €200 ($250).
Labor leaders have also called on public sector employers to increase remuneration payments to trainees and interns by €100.
Government and union representatives are set to meet on Sunday to start a third round of wage negotiations. The last two rounds ended without any offer from the federal or state governments.
Verdi chief Frank Bsirske said Germany's strong economic performance meant there was public money available for workers.
"Public coffers are full as never before — when, if not now, would it be the time for wage increases?" he said.
Speaking at a 7,000-strong union demonstration in the western city of Bonn, dbb head Ulrich Silberbach called on the government to compromise in this weekend's talks.
"Real trouble beckons if [public sector] employers … do not finally understand that they need to invest in their current and future workforce to make the government fit for the future," he said.
Hitting back, the head of the Association of Municipal Government Employers' Unions, Klaus-Dieter Klapproth, said the strikes were negatively affecting the general public "without actually influencing the course of negotiations."
More strikes slated for Thursday
Verdi said more warning strikes would take place across Germany on Thursday, with disruptions expected for public transport in multiple cities including Hanover, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart.
The third round of negotiations will include the participation of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and could last until Tuesday.
The European Central Bank (ECB) is closely watching the drama. The German economy is Europe's largest and any broad-based wage increases could lift inflation across the continent, potentially influencing the ECB to wind down a massive stimulus program.
amp/jm (AFP, Reuters, dpa)