IG Metall members vote to begin strike: Engineers face worst industrial disruption for a decade

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The Independent Online
GERMANY was yesterday on the brink of its worst industrial unrest in a decade after IG Metall, the powerful engineering and metal workers' union, voted for a strike in the northern state of Lower Saxony.

The union's regional membership voted overwhelmingly for a walkout in spite of appeals earlier in the week by the Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, to avoid damaging the economy further.

The strike will begin on Monday unless a last-minute compromise can be hammered out.

The engineering employers' association, Gesamtmetall, yesterday proposed new talks with the union to try to resolve the dispute. Hans- Joachim Gottschol, the president of Gesamtmetall, said the employers saw a good chance for a solution to the dispute.

The union's management board will decide this morning whether to attend the talks. So far it has said that it will only attend fresh negotiations if an offer is put on the table. But last night there were signs that the union had agreed conditionally to a meeting.

The two sides last met on 11 February, when they failed to reach an agreement over the dispute involving 3.6 million workers.

Yesterday's strike ballot, which required a 75 per cent majority, was supported by 92.2 per cent of those voting. The union will announce today which companies will be hit by strike action.

The strike has been called in protest at attempts to freeze wages and cut holiday bonuses. Employers also want to introduce a more flexible working pattern.

The union, whose members account for about 41,000 of the 100,000 engineering workers in the state of Lower Saxony, wants a moderate rise in wages and job guarantees.

Klaus Murmann, head of the national employers' association, echoed Mr Kohl's call for a settlement yesterday, urging the engineering employers and IG Metall to do everything in their power to stop the dispute escalating into strikes and lock-outs.

Speaking on German television, Mr Murmann said an agreement between the two sides was possible and should not be very difficult. However, he repeated the employers' line that the outcome of the talks should be a wage freeze and more flexible working hours in the metal and engineering industries.

'Then we should gain strength, which should allow us to distribute more next year,' he said. Flexible working hours were already in place in many other nearby countries, he added.

Uli Fink, deputy chairman of the federation of German trade unions, said he also hoped for a settlement to the dispute.