German public sector workers strike for big wage increase

After a week of “warning strikes,” The leader of Germany’s largest union ver. di expressed optimism that a deal raising wages for Germany’s public sector is in reach as the third round of wage bargaining resumed on Sunday.

More than 150,000 public service employees took part in the warning strikes that began on April 10 and lasted throughout the week.

Frank Bsirske, leader of ver. di, said that the solidarity expressed by members of ver. di and the German Civil Service Union (dbb) has made him confident that the government is now ready to negotiate wage increases.

Prior to the strikes and during the first two rounds of negotiations, the government had been stonewalling the unions on the wage increase demands.

The two unions want a 6 percent pay increase with a minimum increase of 200 euros a month. They also want a 100 euro a month increase for interns and trainees.

The strikes began on Tuesday when Lufthansa ground crew workers and firefighters walked off the job causing Germany’s largest airline to cancel 800 flights.

The next two days transport workers all over Germany idled public transportation.

Public transportation in Stuttgart, Hanover, Braunschwieg, Wolfsburg, Dusseldorf, Mannheim, Kaiserslautern, and Heidelberg was shut down for a day because of the strikes.

Government administrative offices, hospitals, child care centers, kindergartens, sanitation services, and other public services were all affected by the warning strikes.

As the strikes began to have their effect, Bsriske said that the government has the financial resources to meet the unions demands.

“Public coffers are full as never before–when if not now would be the time for wage increases,” Bsirske said.

The German government reported a 2017 budget surplus of 36.6 billion euros, Germany’s largest budget surplus since 1990.

Despite its record-breaking surplus, the government during the first two rounds of negotiations refused to make any wage increase offers, which frustrated union negotiators.

During a rally of striking workers in Bonn, Ulrich Silberbach, leader of the German Civil Service Union (dbb) whose members also participated in the warning strikes, said that the government needed to alter its negotiating position.

“Real trouble beckons if government employers . . . do not finally understand that they need to invest in their current and future workforce to make the government fit for the future,” said Silberbach.

After the warning strikes ended on Friday, union leaders buoyed by the solidarity shown by union members, entered the weekend confident that the third round of negotiations would be more fruitful.

And they were right.

After the first day of the third round ended, the unions and the government issued a joint statement announcing “initial progress” had been made in resolving their differences on a wage increase.

The statement went to say that work remained on the scope and structure of the wage increases

Bsriske told reporters that the progress made during the first day of negotiations was the result of the higher than expected number of union members who took part in the strike.

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