German industrial union demands pay rise amid strong economy

The night shift workers meet for a warning strike assembly of the IG Metall (Industrial Union of Metalworkers) in front of the gates of the Aluminium Norf GmbH in Neuss, Germany, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Germany’s largest industrial union pressed its demands for pay rises and the possibility for reduced work hours for its 3.9 million members with renewed short-term strikes Tuesday, saying the economy’s steady growth justifies better compensation and conditions. (Guido Kirchner/dpa via AP)
Metalworkers demonstrate in Schweinfurt, southern Germany, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Germany’s largest industrial union pressed its demands for pay rises and the possibility for reduced work hours for its 3.9 million members with renewed short-term strikes Tuesday, saying the economy’s steady growth justifies better compensation and conditions. (Timm Schamberger/dpa via AP)

BERLIN — Germany's largest industrial union pressed its demands for pay rises and the possibility for reduced hours for 3.9 million workers with renewed short-term strikes Tuesday, saying the economy's steady growth justifies better compensation and conditions.

The walkouts by thousands of IG Metall union members are aimed at increasing pressure on employers heading in to a new round of labor negotiations in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg on Thursday. Agreements reached in one region are typically applied nationwide.

The labor action came as the Economy Ministry released new figures underlining the strength of the German economy, Europe's biggest. They showed that industrial production picked up strongly in November after two months of declines.

Figures showed industrial production rose 3.4 percent compared with the previous month, following an October that was heavy on public holidays.

"After a weak start to the fourth quarter, the German economy has returned to full speed," said ING economist Carsten Brzeski. "With November finally being a month that was not heavily affected by vacation planning or weather, the German industry could finally show its real face."

In a separate report, the Federal Statistical Office said German exports — a traditional strength of the economy — were up a strong 4.1 percent in November compared with October, following small declines in the two previous months. Imports increased by 2.3 percent.

In arguing for a 6 percent wage increase, the IG Metall union argues that 2 percentage points would compensate for inflation while workers deserve the other 4 percent as a share in companies' increased productivity as well as the businesses' "economic success and increased prosperity."

Additionally, the union is lobbying for workers to be able to reduce their work weeks from 35 hours to 28 hours for up to two years, with a guarantee they can return to full hours, to help them "better balance work and private lives," in particular in raising children.

Employers, meantime, have countered with an offer of a 2 percent pay rise and are asking for the possibility of having employees work more hours per week if they agree.

On Monday, some 15,000 workers staged short-term strikes at some 140 businesses, including at Porsche's factory in Stuttgart. Similar numbers of so-called "warning strikes" were going on Tuesday throughout the day.

Such walkouts, typically lasting several hours, are a common tactic for German unions ahead of wage negotiations.

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