Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Finally not just following orders

German Public Workers Stage First Strike for 14 Years

German public-sector workers went on strike for the first time in 14 years to protest plans to make them work longer hours for no extra pay.

Workers, ranging from hospital staff and garbage collectors to kindergarten teachers, walked off their jobs in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which employs more than 200,000 people in the public sector, according to Ver.di, Germany's largest labor union. It's the first widespread strike since Chancellor Angela Merkel took office Nov. 22.

``Our strategy is to have more and more people striking on the street each day to increase the pressure on the employers,'' Ralf Berchtold, the spokesman for Ver.di's Baden-Wuerttemberg branch, said today in an interview. ``We will continue to strike during the first round of negotiations to enforce our aim, and will only stop once we have an acceptable offer.''

Local and regional authorities across Germany are pressing to extend the working week from 38 1/2 hours to 40 hours without any extra pay to cut costs and lower budget shortfalls. Germany's national budget deficit has broken European Union rules each year since 2002. Ver.di has rejected the plans, saying the move may lead to job cuts.

Ninety-five percent of 10,000 workers in Baden- Wuerttemberg, home to companies such as Porsche AG and DaimlerChrysler AG, voted for today's protests, Ver.di, which represents 2.4 million workers nationwide, said Jan. 2. The Berlin-based union says 5,000 jobs alone may be at risk in municipalities in the northern state of Lower Saxony, where 120,000 people are employed.

`More Jobs Will Be Cut'

``The 40-hour week means that even more jobs will be cut and every single person will need to work harder,'' said Giusseppa Giuliano, 47, who has cooked and cleaned for 14 years in youth-welfare facilities in Stuttgart. ``Absolutely nobody believes'' that the municipalities won't cut jobs once we extend our working week, said Giuliano, who joined today's strike.


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