German Metalworkers Resume Strikes After Pay Talks Stall

IG Metall, Europe’s biggest manufacturing union, is resuming temporary walkouts today after a fourth round of talks with German industrial employers failed to produce a breakthrough last night.

Warning strikes are scheduled at Sulzer AG, Mahle GmbH and Getrag Group in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, IG Metall said in a statement. The union and employers are scheduled to resume talks on May 15. Talks in the states of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt also failed to produce a result.

Since April 30, more than 420,000 workers across Germany have participated in so-called warning strikes, which last for limited periods, according to IG Metall. The union is demanding a 6.5 percent wage increase for its 3.6 million members, more say over temporary employment and guarantees of permanent contracts for people completing apprenticeships as German workers seek a bigger share in the country’s economic rebound.

IG Metall will decide after next week’s meeting whether to go ahead with unlimited strikes or continue negotiations, Kai Bliesener, a spokesman, said today by phone. A long-term walkout requires a 75 percent approval by voting union members.

“The employers’ association did not bring any new offer,” Joerg Hofmann, head of IG Metall in Baden-Wuerttemberg, said late yesterday at a press conference in the town of Sindelfingen after the talks ended with Suedwestmetall, the manufacturing-employers group in the state.

Considering Apprenticeships

IG Metall and Suedwestmetall have formed an expert committee to discuss temporary employment and guarantees for permanent contracts for workers completing apprenticeships, Rainer Dulger, the association’s chief negotiator, said at yesterday’s press conference.

The sides agreed not to discuss salary demands until progress is made on the temporary employment and permanent contracts, he said.

In Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, “the employers didn’t say anything substantially new and refused to set another date for negotiations,” Hartmut Meine, IG Metall’s chief negotiator for the two states, said today in a statement. “We need to come to a conclusion in the week before the Pentecost holiday” on May 28 to prevent wider industrial action.

German exports unexpectedly increased for a third month in March as demand from outside the euro region offset weaker sales in Europe, according to figures from the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden today. Economists had forecast a drop of 0.5 percent, according to the median of 11 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey.

Economic Revival

Today’s report is the third in as many days to suggest Germany may have returned to growth in the first quarter after the economy shrank in the final three months of 2011. Factory orders and industrial production both rose more than economists forecast in March.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble defended labor leaders’ pay demands in an interview published by Focus magazine on May 5. Germany can afford higher raises than other European nations because it has undergone years of political and economic reforms already, Schaeuble was cited as saying.

Ver.di, the main labor union for non-manufacturing workers in Germany, won agreements in late March for as much as a 6.3 percent pay increase by the end of 2013 for state and municipal employees and yesterday for a 6.5 percent raise through January 2014 for workers at phone company Deutsche Telekom AG. The union is now organizing warning strikes by bank employees.

Chemical Industry Talks

The German chemical-sector union, IG BCE, is also negotiating a new contract, demanding a 6 percent industrywide pay raise for the 550,000 employees it represents over 12 months.

Baden-Wuerttemberg is home to companies including Daimler AG, Porsche SE and Robert Bosch GmbH, and is the union’s benchmark region for contracts nationwide. Suedwestmetall is offering a 3 percent raise for the 800,000 people employed in electronics and metalworking in the state.

“The strikes cause a big damage to the economy,” Dulger said yesterday. The warning strikes in Baden-Wuerttemberg “amount to approximately 100,000 working hours lost.” Workers don’t get paid for the hours they go on strike.

The walkouts have resulted in lost turnover in the “double-digit” millions of euros for Baden-Wuerttemberg companies, Suedwestmetall said.

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