German industrial workers stage strikes in pay dispute

Employees at firms including Porsche, Kirchhoff walk out

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) — German industrial workers staged strikes at metals and engineering firms on Monday in support of wage claims by union IG Metall, which announced a further wave of walkouts for Tuesday.

With the economy in robust health and unemployment at record lows, the country's biggest union is demanding an inflation-busting six per cent pay hike this year for about 3.9 million workers, as well as a shorter working week.

Ahead of regional negotiations due to begin on Thursday, employers have so far offered two per cent plus a one-off 200 euro (US$240) payment in the first quarter.

On Monday, more than 3,000 employees downed tools at sports car maker Porsche in Stuttgart, and around 400 at elevator maker OTIS in Berlin were expected to do likewise.

Night shift workers at automotive supplier Kirchhoff in the industrial heartland state of North Rhine-Westphalia also walked out, as did staff at farming machinery maker Claas, the union said.

"The employers provoked these warning strikes with their behaviour at the negotiating table," Knut Giesler, head of IG Metall in North Rhine-Westphalia, said.

In the state, also Germany's most populous, IG Metall has called for stoppages at 143 companies on Tuesday, including Lumileds, the LED components and car lighting business of Philips, and Thyssenkrupp unit Rothe Erde in Dortmund.

Industrial action is also scheduled to the south in Bavaria, home to premium carmaker BMW and engineering group Siemens, where the union is threatening to shift from short warning strikes lasting only a few hours to full-day stoppages.

The dispute follows a strong year of growth in Europe's largest economy, driven by domestic demand from record numbers of German workers while borrowing costs and inflation remain low and exporters benefit from a global recovery.

That pattern should extend through 2018, with the Ifo economic institute last month forecasting growth of 2.6 per cent for the year.

Talks between unions and employers' associations are set for Thursday in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Volkswagen's Porsche, Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler and automotive suppliers including Bosch are based.

In Bavaria, negotiations will resume on Jan. 15, and in North Rhine-Westphalia on Jan. 18.

The latter state's sector employers' association, Metall NRW, said the strikes risked damaging Germany industrial companies' reputation as reliable suppliers.

"I expect the union to take action at the negotiating table and not out in the streets," Metall NRW director Luitwin Mallmann said in a statement.

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