German metalworkers start strikes for 28-hour week

January 8, 2018
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Short walkouts are part of the German wage negotiation ritual but this time things could get more serious/AFP

, BERLIN, Germany, Jan 8 – Germany’s powerful metalworkers’ union launched mass strikes Monday over pay and working hours that could impact a key industry and the shape of labour nationwide.

IG Metall are not just asking for a pay rise but also demanding that all workers have the option to temporarily switch to a 28-hour week in the pursuit of better work-life balance.

Even more controversially, it wants shift workers and those caring for children or elderly relatives to be compensated for some of the salary loss that would come with clocking up fewer hours.

Employers say such a drastic change would be illegal and have threatened to go to court to stop the industrial action.

Dozens of walkouts began across the country in the morning, at firms like car industry titan Volkswagen and its subsidiary Porsche, train manufacturer Bombardier or elevator maker Otis.

IG Metall also announced the names of 143 firms targeted for strikes Tuesday.

So-called “warning strikes” are a familiar feature of the annual collective bargaining process, with workers downing tools for a few hours to demonstrate at factory gates and in town squares.

IG Metall expects up to 700,000 to participate in the ritual, running for at least a week from Monday.

Strikes will stretch from Germany’s “rust belt” in western North Rhine-Westphalia state to Brandenburg, Saxony and Berlin in the former communist east and the hyper-modern car factories of southwestern Baden-Wuerttemberg.

If the two sides can not agree on the terms of the negotiation by late January, the stage could be set for longer, more damaging walkouts.

There has been no nationwide, open-ended strike in Germany since 2003.

Trailblazers

Boasting some 2.3 million members, IG Metall is Europe’s largest trade union, representing workers of all kinds in industrial conglomerates like Siemens or Thyssenkrupp, steelmaking, the auto industry, electronics and textiles.

The sheer weight of the metal and electrical industries’ 3.9 million workers often draws other sectors along in its wake when it comes to pay deals – and 2018’s showdown could make for massive changes.

Unions are demanding a pay rise of 6 percent this year.

While the figure is triple bosses’ initial offer of 2 percent, it is a classic starting position to wring out a compromise.

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