BERLIN (Reuters) - Thousands of workers in Germany’s engineering sector walked out on strike over a wage dispute on Wednesday, in what the powerful IG Metall trade union warned could be just the start of warning strikes that aim to drive forward wage negotiations.
Around 30,000 workers in Germany’s manufacturing sector downed tools until midday, affecting more than 100 companies, including German carmaker Daimler (DAIGn.DE), after regional wage negotiations stalled in April.
“Our patience is at an end, we want a 6.5 percent wage increase,” Oliver Burkhard, a regional union leader, said in a statement.
“If employers don’t get moving, then today’s warning strikes will be just the beginning. We’re ready for a fight,” he said.
Daimler’s Sprinter plant in Duesseldorf was hit by the strikes during the early morning shift as 800 workers walked out, IG Metall said.
The trade union, one of Germany’s largest, said further strike action was planned in southern Germany on Thursday.
Years of wage restraint have boosted Germany’s competitiveness and helped to cut its unemployment rate to a two-decade low.
Wage rises in many other euro zone countries have been steeper than in Germany in recent years, fuelling the economic divergence which has underpinned the debt crisis in the single currency area.
This year, the wages of around 9 million workers are up for negotiation in Europe’s largest economy, and deals agreed so far have outstripped inflation.
IG Metall is asking for a 6.5 percent wage increase this year for its 3.6 million members nationwide, and rejected an offer of 3 percent over 14 months for 700,000 workers in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia last month, describing it as a farce.
Regional union leader for the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Joerg Hofmann, said he expected a deal to be reached by May 15 at the latest.
“Otherwise we’ll show them the red card,” he said.
German public sector union ver.di clinched a wage increase of 6.3 percent over 24 months for two million workers in March in the third round of negotiations, ending a series of warning strikes that had disrupted transport and services.
Reporting by Alice Baghdjian and Jan C. Schwartz in Hamburg, editing by Gareth Jones