Public workers end 11-day strike in Germany Tentative settlement includes 5.4 % raise

May 08, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau The New York Times contributed to this article.

BERLIN -- The 11-day public service workers' strike that disrupted everything in Germany from garbage collection to air travel ended last night with a tentative 5.4 percent wage increase.

The raise was almost exactly what a mediator had suggested before the walkouts began, striking at the core of this country's pride in orderliness and appearing to shake Chancellor Helmut Kohl's grip on power.

Commenting on the results of the strike yesterday, one transit worker complained, "We could have had that before we went out."

Hundreds of thousands of union members participated in the strike, stalling trains and subways, closing clinics, kindergartens and government offices and leaving garbage uncollected and mail undelivered.

To show its strength, the union shut most major airports, even closing the country's principal hub, Frankfurt, for 24 hours, symbolically cutting Germany off from the world.

Union members begin voting on the settlement Monday. The head of the OTV public service workers union, Monika Wulf-Mathies, said it was possible for members of her union to start work again today.

The proposed agreement was seen as something of a setback for the government, which had rejected 5.4 percent as inflationary and had vowed not to go over 4.8 percent, roughly the rate of inflation plus productivity gains.

"The government said 5.4 percent was not payable," said a Berlin television commentator. "Now they'll have to pay it."

The proposal is weighted to give the biggest increases to lower-paid workers. About 100 marks would be added to a garbage collector's monthly salary of 2,200 marks. A telephone repairman would get 150 marks and a nurse 160 marks. (A mark is worth about 61 cents.)

At one bus depot in Berlin, transit workers said that buses and subways would probably start rolling about noon. But Germans were perhaps most interested in when their garbage would be collected.

"It stinks to high heaven," complained Bild Zeitung, a tabloid.

Ms. Wulf-Mathies and Rudolf Seiters, the dapper interior minister who negotiated for the government, appeared on television together late yesterday afternoon to announce their tentative settlement.

Ms. Wulf-Mathies called the settlement "a political victory."

The package includes a 200-mark holiday bonus for everyone. And in addition to the holiday bonus, lower-paid employees, garbage collectorsfor example, are to get a one-time 750-mark payment, and middle-level wage earners are to get a 600-mark bonus. Cabinet ministers at the top, like Mr. Seiters, get nothing.

Lower and middle public service workers would get as much as a 6.2 percent raise, Ms. Wulf-Mathies said. The mediator's proposal would have given them an average of 35 marks, she said, adding, "Now that's doubled."

The settlement is expected to cost 16 billion marks ($9.75 billion), Mr. Seiters calculated.

Unemployment rates dropped slightly yesterday also, so the country had good economic news of a sort all around.

Negotiations are still under way involving several industrial unions, including IG-Metall, and about 5 million workers in both the metal fabrication and printing unions. The metal workers staged guerrilla attacks today in "lightning" strikes at selected plants across Germany.

IG-Metall workers are seeking a 9.5 percent wage increase, which is what the public employees had originally sought.

Employers in the metal industries have offered a 3.3 percent increase, which the workers have rejected as "insulting."

There was some sense, however that negotiations with the industrial workers would be influenced by the agreement with public sector employees.

Before the temporary agreement was reached late yesterday, Chancellor Kohl said that any settlement beyond a "reasonable" level would mean less money available for investment in rebuilding eastern Germany.

Ms. Wulf-Mathies said she believed that the 750-mark one-shot payments would be applicable to eastern German workers in negotiations later in the year. Eastern Germans, who earn between 60 percent and 85 percent of western German wages, would practically all be considered lower-paid employees.

"The 5.4 percent puts us in a good position in East German negotiations," she said.

Workers in eastern Germany did not participate in the strikes because their labor unions have not yet merged with their counterparts in the west.

But some easterners resented the strikers for demanding wage increases at a time when so much money is needed to rebuild the eastern part of the country.

"Money given to union members is money that will not be available for building new streets or telephone systems in the east," said Rainer Eppelmann, a member of Parliament from eastern Berlin, in an interview yesterday.

"For the next two or three years, it would be good for everyone in the western part of the country to accept the principle that they have a social responsibility to the east."

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