* Schlecker drugstore chain axing more than 11,000 jobs
* FDP blocked possible rescue deal for Schlecker
* Berlin confident workers will find jobs elsewhere
By Sarah Marsh
BERLIN, March 30 (Reuters) - Thousands of workers at insolvent Schlecker drug store chain will soon find new jobs in Germany’s buoyant economy, the government said on Friday, after regional leaders failed to agree a rescue package for the ailing retailer.
Union leaders, politicians and media have criticised Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the low-tax, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), for torpedoing plans for a 71 million euro loan guarantee to set up an agency for the retraining and job placement of 11,000 Schlecker employees.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Merkel believed such an agency would be appropriate in times of mass unemployment but that this was not now the case.
“For the chancellor what is most important now is to look forward and do everything to enable those affected to find new jobs as soon as possible,” he told a regular news conference. “According to everything that experts tell us, there is a good probability of employees finding another job in this sector.”
Germany’s jobless rate dropped to a new post-reunification low of 6.7 percent in March, with unemployment falling for the fifth month running, data showed on Thursday.
“The labour market situation is favorable,” said an economy ministry spokeswoman. “At the moment there are nearly twice as many job openings in retail as there are Schlecker employees facing dismissal.”
The FDP, whose support has sagged since it joined Merkel’s coalition in 2009 and which dropped out of a fifth state assembly in an election last weekend, has come under fire for blocking the agency to help Schlecker’s mostly female workforce.
“Schlecker aid fails because of FDP”, “FDP disappoints Schlecker women” and “I am ashamed for the FDP” were some of the headlines in leading German newspapers on Friday.
Opposition politicians accused the FDP of trying to carve out a more distinctive profile for itself ahead of next year’s federal election at the expense of the Schlecker workers.
“The FDP is fighting desperately for its own future at the cost of the fate of the Schlecker workers,” Greens leader Renate Kuenast said.
The FDP may well score points with some German voters fed up with taxpayer bailouts of countries and companies. Former Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg gained popularity in 2009 when he tried to resist a push by fellow cabinet members to give car-maker Opel billions of euros in state aid.
Court-appointed insolvency administrator for Schlecker Arndt Geiwitz said he feared Schlecker employees would file complaints against their dismissal, thereby making it all the more difficult to find a new owner for the 3,000 stores.
The Schleckers, once one of Germany’s wealthiest families, announced in January they had lost their multi-billion-euro fortune, leaving them unable to pump fresh funds into their unlisted company.
Schlecker, which competes with privately held chains Rossmann and dm, filed for insolvency, as struggling European businesses find it increasingly hard to secure funds against a gloomy economic backdrop.
The Schlecker family had said it hoped to bring Germany’s biggest drugstore chain back out of insolvency and continue running it as a family business.
Economy Minister and FDP leader Philipp Roesler has said regional governments had simply promised Schlecker workers too much, and it was up to job agencies to find new jobs for the workers at Schlecker.
The HDE retail association said the workers would soon find new jobs if they were flexible, given the tight labour market. (Editing by Alistair Lyon)