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German Construction Strike Expands

June 20, 2002

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ The German construction workers’ union told its members to strike at another 150 sites Thursday, bringing the total to almost 1,200 as it claimed four days of walkouts were forcing movement toward new talks.

IG BAU union strike leader Dietmar Schaefers said the strike has now reached every German state, although only around 18,000 of the 950,000 workers in the industry were involved.

``Our action is going ahead as planned,″ Schaefers said. ``It has already brought about movement in the employers’ camp.″

Both sides said Wednesday they were exploring a return to the bargaining table early next week. A union spokesman, Ruediger Loewe, said Thursday that there was no agreement on when talks might resume.

Economists say the strike could deal another blow to an industry that has shrunk by around 20 percent since 1995, dragging down the wider German economy.

Thomas Bauer, the employers’ chief negotiator, called the strike ``madness.″

``This will give another push to the decline of the construction sector,″ he told WirtschaftsWoche magazine. ``We were hoping, after seven years of recession, that 2002 would be somewhat better.″

The strike is one of several labor disputes in Germany this year, after years of relative calm. Reasons for the more combative climate include unions’ desire to make up for moderate increases in the past.

Unions also appear to be inspired by the 4.0 percent increase for the coming year won by the IG Metall factory workers union after 10 days of strikes in May.

IG BAU is seeking a 4.5 percent annual pay increase and wants wages in poorer eastern Germany brought up to the level of those in the west.

A construction worker in western Germany makes an average hourly base wage of 13.45 euros ($12.64), while in the formerly communist east the average hourly wage is 9.81 euros ($9.22).

Employers have offered increases of 3 percent for the period from September 2002 until March 2003 and of 2.1 percent for the following 12 months.

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