Frankfurt am Main (AFP) – German public sector unions were set to begin a decisive round of wage talks with employers Sunday, after staging a series of strikes that caused disruptions at airports, train stations, hospitals and daycare centres.
Some 150,000 public sector workers took part in hours-long “warning strikes” across Germany this week, ramping up the pressure in their push for a six-percent pay increase, or at least an additional 200 euros a month.
Two previous rounds of talks went nowhere with state and local government employers rejecting the unions’ demands as too expensive.
Frank Bsirske, chief of the powerful Verdi union, has threatened more widespread action if no progress is made in the upcoming discussions, but he also expressed optimism a deal could be in sight for Germany’s 2.3 million public sector workers.
“The signals I’m getting now should make it possible to reach an acceptable compromise in the third round of negotiations,” he told the financial daily Handelsblatt.
The unions say their wage demands are justified given the country’s record 36.6-billion-euro ($45-billion) budget surplus in 2017 and the economy’s robust health.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on Saturday said he hoped to “quickly reach reasonable results” in the next round of talks.
He said he agreed that public workers should “share in Germany’s good economic development”, but warned that the wage demands were “too high”.
The past week’s strike action caused travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of commuters as bus, tram and train services were disrupted.
Air travel was snarled too as security workers, firefighters and support staff walked off the job. Germany’s flagship carrier Lufthansa alone was forced to cancel 800 flights.
Kindergartens, rubbish collection services and hospitals were also affected.
The latest talks, due to begin Sunday afternoon, are scheduled to last at least until Monday.
The public sector’s ambitious wage demands come after the influential IG Metall metalworkers’ union earlier this year secured a 4.3-percent wage hike as well as the right to more flexible work hours for nearly four million workers.
They had also gone into talks demanding a six-percent wage boost.