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Metal Industry Reaches Wage Deal Upholding Sick Benefits

December 5, 1996

HANOVER, Germany (AP) _ In a defeat for Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s efforts to trim the welfare state, metal industry negotiators reached a regional wage deal Thursday that keeps workers on full pay during sick leave for five years.

Negotiators said the sick-pay agreement in Lower Saxony could be a blueprint for other German states and head off major strikes.

Union and employer delegates also set a two-year wage pact for some 90,000 metal and electronics industry workers, with pay raises of 1.5 percent next April 1 and 2.5 percent on April 1, 1998, IG Metall said.

The sick-pay dispute arose in October when Daimler-Benz and many other leading companies cut sick pay to 80 percent of normal wages from full pay under a new German law. A wave of work stoppages and rallies forced them to back down.

Industry wage talks in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, collapsed over sick pay last week, and union leaders warned they might call full-fledged strikes early next year.

In Lower Saxony, the IG Metall union agreed to exclude overtime from the wage on which a worker’s sick pay will be based.

But a negotiator for the Gesamtmetall employers’ organization, Dietrich Kroenke, said he was very perturbed that cutting companies’ social costs ``is impossible in this country at this time.″

``We had to accept that we could not benefit from the new legal possibilities,″ he said. ``We hope to avoid a major strike this way, not only in Lower Saxony.″

A local IG Metall leader, Juergen Peters, called the outcome ``a breakthrough for common sense″ that ``could, but does not have to be″ a model for the rest of Germany.

IG Metall and Gesamtmetall also agreed workers in the state will receive a lump sum payment of $130 for the first three months of 1997. The current contract expires at the end of the year.

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