German strikes spread to Daimler, union mulls escalation

Reuters – Tens of thousands of German industrial workers downed tools on Tuesday in support of trade union IG Metall’s demands for a 6 percent pay rise and a right to the first new cut in weekly working hours since the 1980s.

Workers have been staging such warning strikes since last week, a common tactic in sectoral wage negotiations in Germany. About 33,000 workers took part on Tuesday, including 10,000 at Mercedes maker Daimler AG making the total to 425,000 since last week.

With Europe’s largest economy steaming ahead and unemployment at a record low, Germany’s biggest trade union is confident of winning a significantly better deal for around 3.9 million workers in the metal and engineering sectors.

IG Metall said it would decide next Friday, after the current round of wage talks, whether to escalate the dispute into 24-hour strikes.

“The proposal that the employers have made is far from fair,” IG Metall chief Joerg Hofmann told a news conference in Frankfurt. “An offer of a 2 percent wage rise is more like a provocation.

IG Metall is demanding that workers should be able to cut their weekly hours to 28 from 35 if they need to care for children, elderly or sick relatives and get the right to return to work full-time after two years.

Roman Zitzelsberger, head of IG Metall in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, told striking workers at the gates of Daimler’s factory in the town of Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart: “The economy is booming because the employees like those here at Daimler do good work every day.”

“So 6 percent is appropriate and we won’t be fobbed off with 2 percent.”

Employers reject the demands to cut hours unless working time for others could be increased temporarily as well. They argue that workers in Germany’s industrial sector already have shorter weeks than their peers in other countries and worry that reducing their hours further would hurt German competitiveness.

From Strike rules in the EU27 and beyond
A comparative overview
by Wiebke Warneck


The right to strike is not explicitly mentioned in the German constitution. German labour dispute regulations are almost entirely based on case law, the main issue being whether or not a particular labour dispute is legal. A strike in Germany must be linked to a collective agreement and must be initiated by a trade union.

Secondary action is generally speaking unlawful, as are political strikes.

Industrial action is prohibited over issues which are subject of an agreement in
force. Issues not dealt with in the agreement, or concerning which the collectively agreed
provisions have expired, may be the subject of action.

In keeping with the principle of last resort, all possibilities of a peaceful negotiation for
settlement must have been exhausted, if this was agreed upon in the collective agreement.

Labour disputes that fail to respect this principle are usually unlawful, except in the case
of brief and selective warning strikes intended to influence the outcome of negotiations.

Employers may use employees in the strikers’ positions only if they volunteer to perform
the work done by strikers.

German civil servants do not have the right to strike.