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UPDATE 2-Steel workers in north-west Germany win 3 pct pay rise
(Adds comment from union, employers, economist)
DUESSELDORF, Germany, March 6 (Reuters) - Around 75,000 steel workers in north-west Germany will receive an above-inflation wage hike of 3 percent this year, trade union IG Metall and employers agreed on Wednesday, in a deal which could set the tone for a series of wider agreements.
Economists have predicted wage rises in Germany will outpace inflation in 2013 as September's federal election makes politicians more likely to back unions' demands and given the relative strength of Europe's largest economy.
IG Metall had first sought a wage rise of 5 percent for the steel workers. The 3 percent deal it eventually agreed after 10 hours of talks with employers will run for 15 months and includes improved provisions for apprentices and retirement.
Firms affected by the deal, which takes effect from March 1, 2013, include ThyssenKrupp, Salzgitter and ArcelorMittal.
"An immediate increase of 3 percent is a good result," said Knut Giesler, head of IG Metall in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Helmut Koch, representing the employers' side in the negotiations, said they had aimed for a deal with a lower cost burden. "Neither side has anything to be really overjoyed about, which is therefore a positive thing."
Economist Eckart Tuchtfeld at Commerzbank said as the deal would run beyond one year it amounted to an annualised 2.5 percent, a more moderate level than expected, although employers would see higher labour costs in meeting the extra provisions.
Two days ago IG Metall recommended that its regional councils make wage hike demands of up to 5.5 percent in their series of negotiations covering around 3.7 million metal and electronics workers.
Last year the union secured its biggest pay rise in 20 years - a 4.3 percent wage hike over 13 months.
While nominal wages grew by an average 1.5 percent per year between 2001 and 2011, failing to keep pace with inflation, German paychecks outstripped a 2.0 percent inflation rate to rise by 2.6 percent last year.
Germany's annual inflation in February stood at 1.5 percent, according to preliminary figures, and inflation in 2013 is expected to average 2.0 percent and 2.1 percent in 2014.
Years of wage restraint helped cut unemployment close to a post-reunification low but also contributed to imbalances in the euro zone, which are partly to blame for the region's crisis, by boosting German competitiveness while restraining domestic consumption.
The wages of some 12.5 million workers are up for negotiation this year. Negotiated wages climbed by an average 2.7 percent in 2012.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber and Tom Kaeckenhoff, writing by Alexandra Hudson, editing by Gareth Jones)
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