Despite hopes that successful weekend negotiations could head off a strike vote by the Verdi services union on April 2, it appears that Germany might have to steel itself up for a protracted labor war involving more than one million public-sector employees.
A spokesman for the union said that details of a strike by postal workers would be announced on Monday, since overnight talks between employers and union representatives had been unsuccessful. Verdi said the strikes could be nationwide and affect normal letter delivery services.
The union wants job guarantees for the 130,000 employees covered by the public-sector wage agreements at Deutsche Post until mid-2011 and ten shortened work days annually to make up for an increase in the work week from 38.5 to 41 hours for 55,000 postal employees.
Deutsche Post has offered to extend job guarantees until June 30 so that further negotiations can take place and has agreed to some flexibility on the working hours issue, as long as Verdi's behaviour remains "constructive."
Larger public sector wage arbitration began on March 16 after wage talks between the union and employers failed earlier in the month. Mediators Lothar Späth, the former premier of the state of Baden-Württemberg, and Herbert Schmalstieg, the former mayor of Hanover, have been unable to reach an amicable compromise with the unions, which represent 1.3 million public sector workers.
The arbitrators matched union wage demands of an 8 percent pay hike to offset higher food and fuel costs. But they linked it to an increase of working hours for staff in the west of the country to 39.5 hours. Most workers in the eastern states currently work about 40 hours per week.
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Saturday said he hoped Germany would be spared a protracted labor battle, since it would be in no one's interest. He said employers and Verdi had a responsibility to find a solution that did not pose a danger to the labor market, especially in these times of global financial turbulence.
Verdi chief Frank Bsirske stood firm, however, calling on employers to make a better offer. He said otherwise a strike vote would be held, warning that the union was considering widespread, open-ended labor action.
Earlier this month Verdi called limited nationwide strikes, disrupting buses, flights, refuse collection, kindergartens and other services in Europe's largest economy.