UPDATE 3-German industrial union calls larger work stoppages


(Adds govt paragraph 7, car association para 8, economist paras 13-14)

By Katie Allen

BERLIN, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Germany's largest industrial union, IG Metall, staged short walkouts across Germany on Thursday and called for larger stoppages in coming days to raise pressure on employers in a row over pay and working hours.

IG Metall asked 51,000 engineering workers in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which traditionally leads pay negotiations for the rest of Germany, to walk out for up to three hours on Friday.

"These stoppages...should also carry on into next week," the union said in a statement.

It said Friday's action would affect carmaker Audi and auto components group Kolbenschmidt Pierburg .

Several thousand IG Metall members had already staged brief walkouts at factories across Germany during night shifts and morning shifts after an "industrial peace" period requiring it not to strike expired on Wednesday at 2300 GMT.

The walkouts come after IG Metall said it could not accept employer demands for longer working hours and an offer for less than half the four percent pay rise it is demanding for 3.5 million engineering workers.

The government has urged IG Metall to moderate its demands as employer have warned a high settlement could cost jobs. One in 10 Germans are already unemployed. The union says it wants a share of an economic recovery under way in Germany for its members.


"This wage round must focus on Germany as a location for manufacturers and for a recovery where the issue is costs rather than purchasing power. We need a wage deal that will enable the productivity trend to continue," said Bernd Gottschalk, President of German car association VDA.

Many of the firms hit by stoppages overnight were in the auto sector.

A spokeswoman for one, DaimlerChrysler AG , said: "We think warning strikes send the wrong signal. They lead to completely unnecessary economic damage and endanger the competitiveness of the entire industry."

But striking workers standing in the snow outside the firm's Mercedes factory in southern Berlin said the strikes were important to show how much power the union has.

"What employers have offered us is a huge provocation. We want to make them come to the negotiating table with a reasonable offer," said 50-year-old machine operator Ali Erdogmus, shouting over the strikers' horns and whistles.

IG Metall said the stoppages should not be seen as setting the tone for the rest of the negotiations. However, economists were pessimistic.

"We expect the negotiations to proceed slowly and prolonged strikes are probable," said Deutsche Bank's Manuela Preuschl.

Wage talks were adjourned this week after employers offered IG Metall two pay rises of 1.2 percent over 27 months and asked unions to make contracts with employers more flexible so firms can vary working hours to match demand.

The union says such flexibility could result in an increase in working hours which could cause thousands of job losses and could equate to an effective pay freeze or cut if there is no accompanying wage rise.

The next round of wage talks in Baden-Wuerttemberg, where both Porsche and DaimlerChrysler are based, is scheduled for February 5.



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