Germany: public-sector strikes for wage increase

Workers went on strike at German kindergartens and hospitals and on public transport on Thursday, pressing public-sector wage demands ahead of crucial talks later in the day. No buses or trains were running in Frankfurt, Kassel and Offenbach and some nurseries in the south stayed closed.
Verdi, the service sector trade union, has called for an 8 percent wage rise for some 2 million federal and local government staff and rejected an employers’ offer of a total of 5 percent spread out over two years.
Trade union officials have said they may stage more strikes if there is no agreement in the fifth round of wage negotiations later on Thursday.
“It’s in the hand of the employers: either they move or it will be the employees moving — on the streets,” Verdi head Frank Bsirske told Deutschlandfunk radio.
Local government negotiator Thomas Boehle said he did not intend to make a new wage offer in public ahead of the talks.
“However, I can imagine that we’ll be getting to a result,” he told ARD television. “We’re willing to compromise. I miss that on the trade unions’ side.”

On Wednesday, some 100,000 workers took part in walkouts, cancelling many flights and snarling traffic. Dubbed a “mega wage year” by one of Germany’s leading unions, 2008 has already seen a 5.2 percent pay rise for steel workers, their biggest in 16 years. Economists say if generous wage increases are adopted across other industries they could fan inflation and make the European Central Bank (ECB) less likely to cut borrowing costs, even though the economy is slowing.  A separate strike by Berlin transport workers has disrupted subway train, tram and bus services since Wednesday, forcing many people in the capital to cycle or walk into work.

The GDL train drivers’ union has also threatened strikes on passenger and freight services from next week, escalating a months-long spat with rail operator Deutsche Bahn. (Reuters, reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich)

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