Friday, February 10, 2006

Germans on the march

German Public Workers Vote to Widen Strikes Next Week

Germany's largest labor union promised to extend a regional public workers' strike to more than half the country's states, following approval from rank-and-file members.

About 95 percent of workers polled in nine of Germany's 16 states voted in favor of strikes from Feb. 13, Ver.di union Chairman Frank Bsirske said today in Berlin. The workers range from university hospital staff to street cleaners.

``The result is clearly in favor of strikes,'' said Bsirske, whose organization represents 2.4 million workers.

The strikes started at the municipal level on Feb. 6 in Germany's southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, to protest against plans to lengthen working hours to 40 hours from 38.5 hours without any pay increase. Ver.di says it's prepared to strike for between four to six weeks to force local and regional authorities to roll back the plans.

Longer hours may result in 250,000 jobs being cut in the public sector and related administrative branches, Bsirske said. He also said longer hours would curb the number of apprenticeships for young people, lower their chances of being employed after training, bring about a deterioration in working conditions and result in lower wages for part-time workers.

Some 20,000 of the 22,000 workers polled across Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, North Rhineland-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Saarland and Saxony will join the strike, the first public-sector walkout in 14 years, said Bsirske.

Strike Fund

Hagen Lesch, a wage expert at the Cologne-based IW economic institute, said by telephone that Ver.di will be able to strike ``for some time'' as the union has accumulated between 115 million euros ($138 million) and 150 million euros in funds over the last 14 years to finance possible strikes. The effect of the stoppages on Germany's economy ``may be limited,'' he added.

Local and regional authorities are pressing for longer working hours without higher pay to cut costs and help lower a budget deficit that has violated European Union limits since 2002.

German business groups said on Feb. 7 that the strike would hurt growth, and argued that the measures unions are protesting were the best way to lower wage costs and boost employment.


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