German industrial workers held the first in a series of 24-hour strikes on Tuesday night after employers refused to meet their demands for an eight percent pay rise over 27 months. The union has also asked for workers to be given the right to reduce their weekly hours to 28 from 35 to care for children, elderly or sick relatives, and return to full time after two years.
The over two-million-strong German union, IG Metall, called for full-day walkouts until Friday as the last warning to employers before initiating industrial action that could cripple companies dependent on the supply of car parts and other components.
Over 250 companies, including Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Bosch, and Porche are expected to be hit by the nation-wide walkouts. Workers, on the other hand, will be compensated for the loss of pay from the union’s coffers. The German Institute for Economic Research estimates the strikes would cost the affected companies US$ 77 million daily in lost revenue.
Union members and workers have expressed their willingness to resume talks but demand more openness on the part of employers, who have so far offered a 6.8 percent pay increase and no reduction on work hours unless they can unilaterally increase them when deemed necessary.
Instead of openness companies are responding with legal action. Employers in Bavaria filed a legal challenge to the walkouts on Wednesday, demanding that workers return to work and the union pay damages. However, IG Metall has warned it is capable of launching an open-ended strike across the metalworking sector starting next week.
The union’s demands are an attempt to ensure industrial workers benefit from the fast economic growth that has boosted Germany’s industrial sectors. Union leader Joerg Hoffman told a Berlin newspaper they don’t want a dispute, but "the business environment is fantastic, companies' earnings are extremely good, and they're making us an offer that doesn't even make up for inflation over the 27 months it would run."
This is IG Metall’s first push for a change in hours since 1984, when they organized seven weeks of strikes to secure a reduction of the work week from 40 to 35 hours. Other major accomplishments by Germany’s largest union include paid sick leave and paid vacation time.