Union Leaders Accept Wage Proposal, Most Workers Returning To Work With AM-Germany-Workers, Bjt

BONN, Germany (AP) _ Leaders of Germany's unionized public workers accepted a new government wage proposal Thursday, heralding the end to an 11-day strike that crippled mass transit and left mountains of garbage on the streets.

The government proposal of a 5.4 percent wage hike outpaces inflation, though it does not meet the demands of workers for nearly twice that amount. The union rank-and-file must still vote on the government offer, but the largest union, the 2.3-million member OeTV, said it recommended acceptance.

The strikes by 400,000 public-sector workers in western Germany wreaked havoc on bus and rail transit, postal deliveries, garbage collection, day care, airline service, car rentals and even theater productions.

The government proposal favors lower-paid workers: their increases are retroactive to May 1. For others, the increase would be effective June 1. The offer includes a one-time payment of $454 for lower and middle wage-earners and $363 for senior workers, with no supplement for the highest-paid employees.

Before the strikes began on April 27, union leaders demanded 9.5 percent increases. The government stood by its offer of 4.8 percent until Thursday, saying 5 percent inflation and the high costs of unification with east Germany made it unable to pay more.

The postal union said it would not end its job actions until an actual contract was signed, but Monika Wulf-Mathies, chairwoman of OeTV - which represents bus drivers, streetcar and subway employees, garbage collectors, school janitors and nurses - said the union was suspending its strike.

Rail workers also ended their walkout immediately.

''For railway workers, this strike was worth it,'' said Rudi Schaefer, chairman of the federal rail union.

German workers' salaries are already relatively high - upper-level public works supervisors are paid up to $4,800 a month, a senior nurse can make about $2,500, and a garbage truck driver earns about $2,200.

But taxes and living costs are high, and many western Germans resent the hefty taxes imposed last year to finance the rebuilding of depressed eastern Germany.

Earlier Thursday, transit workers wearing bright-orange vests saying ''We're on Strike'' stood at picketing posts in Bonn, while taxi drivers and employees at car rental agencies fought to keep their tempers amid an overwhelming demand for their services.

''It's chaos. We have no more cars to rent out. Every one of them is out on the streets,'' said Birgit Siebel, a harried employee for the interRent agency at Cologne-Bonn airport.

The strikes did not affect eastern Germany, where public sector contracts are set separately from their western German counterparts.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, meanwhile, complained that Germans have lost their drive for hard work, a trait that was crucial in the rebuilding of western Germany after World War II. Germans currently work an average of 37.7 hours a week, compared to 39 for the French and 40 for Americans.

''When we have the shortest work week of the seven industrialized nations ... but keep our machines running the shortest time, that just won't do,'' Kohl said in Berlin.

The first strike-related injury was reported earlier Thursday. Union leaders said a picketing woman in Troisdorf, near Duesseldorf, was slightly injured when she was hit by a carload of strikebreakers trying to get to their jobs. It apparently was an accident.