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German bosses ask courts to block metalworkers' strikes

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Frankfurt am Main (AFP)

German employers' organisations have turned to the courts to block metalworkers' strikes for higher pay and more generous conditions, they said Wednesday, as thousands of union members downed tools.

Regional industry federations in Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony states filed requests to forbid strikes by union IG Metall and grant them compensation Wednesday morning, with others expected to follow suit, a spokesman for nationwide industry group Gesamtmetall said.

"This unnecessary escalation is coming from IG Metall alone. We reject it absolutely and warn them we will claim compensation," said Bertram Brossardt, director of Bavarian metalworking employers' federation VBM.

The union called on thousands of workers at 250 firms to walk out in 24-hour "warning strikes" from Wednesday, after talks with bosses broke down on Saturday.

Their ambitious aim for a 6.0-percent pay rise for the sector's 3.9 million workers is unremarkable as a tough starting position in wage talks.

But employers say the worker representatives' demand for a right to switch to a 28-hour week for up to two years, with a top-up in pay for some affected employees, could be illegal -- making strikes to achieve it illegal in turn.

Such a system would discriminate against workers who have previously chosen to go part-time without such benefits, they argue.

Bosses also say the warning strikes, a new weapon in unions' arsenal, do not meet the democratic standards required by law.

Courts will not decide in time to stop the remaining strikes planned this week.

"This round of wage talks can't be solved by legal means," IG Metall chief Joerg Hofmann said, adding that the union would "not be deterred by legal distractions".

"Now more than ever we will carry out our day-long warning strikes to the end," he continued.

Unions are determined to press their demands after years of "wage moderation" in the wake of the financial crisis.

A shortage of skilled workers at the same time as businesses work ever closer to capacity in a strong economy is playing into their hands.

Meanwhile, employers fear financial losses from the walkouts, which Cologne-based think tank IW estimated at 62 million euros ($77 million) per day if 50,000 workers were to down tools.

If the parties do not return to the negotiating table, an open-ended, sector-wide strike could cost up to 2.5 billion euros if it reached the 10-day duration last seen in 2002, the economists calculated.

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