March 11, 2015 / 10:20 AM / 4 years ago

Public sector strikes begin at German schools, hospitals and airports

BERLIN (Reuters) - German schools, kindergartens, hospitals and some regional airports were hit by strikes on Wednesday ahead of a third round of wage talks between trade unions and state officials.

Doors are closed at a fire station during a Germany-wide strikes of public sector workers in Berlin March 11, 2015. German schools, kindergartens, hospitals and some regional airports were hit by strikes on Wednesday ahead of a third round of wage talks between trade unions and state officials. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos

The trade unions are demanding a 5.5 percent pay rise for some three million civil servants in Europe’s biggest economy.

Frank Bsirske, head of the powerful services trade union Verdi, said the strikes would raise the pressure ahead of the next round of negotiations set for Monday and Tuesday next week.

The DBB civil servants’ union, GEW teachers’ union and GdP police union joined the strikes which are scheduled to run until Friday. At Duesseldorf and Hanover airports, ground handling workers caused disruption by walking off the job.

Each strike will only last a few hours. The action started in eight states on Wednesday and will move to other regions on Thursday and Friday.

The TdL employers association for Germany’s federal states has rejected the demand, saying it would cost 6.5 billion euros ($6.9 billion).

German unions have been emboldened by a hefty wage increase won last month by IG Metall, Germany’s biggest trade union. It clinched a 3.4 percent rise plus a one-off payment of 150 euros for the 3.7 million engineering workers it represents.

In the last few years, German unions won above-average pay hikes after a decade of wage restraint and deals that failed to keep pace with inflation — a trend that helped to improve Germany’s competitiveness and to curb unemployment.

But the smaller pay rises also exacerbated strains in the euro zone and raised pressure on Germany to back higher wage deals to boost domestic consumption.

Raising wages and domestic demand in Germany are seen as ways of helping tackle current account imbalances in the euro zone. By the end of 2014, private consumption was the main engine of strong growth in Germany.

This year’s wage increase for IG Metall members is more than three times above Germany’s inflation rate.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Raissa Kasolowsky

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