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Germany hit by new round of public-sector strikes - extended

Thousands of public-sector workers went on strike in Germany on Wednesday, causing chaos for air travelers in Europe’s biggest economy and shutting down state-run institutions from hospitals to theatres.

The Ver.di service sector union, which wants an 8% wage increase for some 2 million federal and local government workers, said the west of the country and airports would be the focus of the stoppages. Airline Deutsche Lufthansa urged passengers to take the train and said it would cut 142 mainly domestic flights. Intercontinental flights would not be affected. “I have some sympathy for the strikes but I hope that my client does too,” said Erik Hagens, whose flight to Vienna from Duesseldorf had been cancelled on Wednesday.

Staff at Frankfurt airport operator Fraport stopped work early on Wednesday and a majority of domestic flights would not run, a Ver.di spokesman said. A Fraport spokesman said about 100 flights had been cancelled and there were some delays. Workers were expected to return to work during the morning but services would probably not be back to normal until Thursday, he added. Tens of thousands of public-sector workers already took part in stoppages across northern and eastern states on Tuesday. More strikes are planned in the south on Thursday ahead of a fifth round of wage negotiations with employers. Ver.di chief Frank Bsirske said the offer from employers currently on the table did not even compensate for inflation. “People won’t accept it and I very much hope that employers will understand that, take it on board and realize they have to compromise,” he said.

Dubbed a “mega wage year” by one of Germany’s leading unions, 2008 has already seen a 5.2% pay rise for steel workers, their biggest in 16 years. Economists say generous wage increases, if adopted across other industries could fan inflation and make the European Central Bank less likely to cut borrowing costs even as the economy slows.

In the capital Berlin, a separate strike by transport workers on Wednesday brought subway, tram and bus services to a halt and combined with snow flurries to cause travel misery for thousands in the morning rush hour. Adding to travelers’ woes, the GDL train drivers’ union has threatened to hold strikes on German passenger and freight train services from next week, escalating a months-long spat with rail operator Deutsche Bahn. Economists estimate that a 62-hour GDL rail strike in November, Germany’s biggest ever, cost the economy €75 million. (Reuters)