Richard North, 02/04/2006  

The French strikes are turning into spectacular riots but there is trouble over the border as well. German unions are usually consulted as legislation is formulated and, therefore, there tend to be far fewer strikes. Their view is that strikes are part of the French way of life but are a comparative rarity in their own country.

This may be about to change. 20,000 doctors are on strike to protest working conditions.
“Doctors across Germany went on strike after the state tariff association, which represents university hospital employers, sought to increase the official working week to 42 hours from 38.5. But the physicians' union, the Marburger Bund, argued this would mean a pay decrease in real terms. They demanded a 30 percent wage increase in turn.”
There is the usual problem with perception and reality or, perhaps, perception by different people. The German public, with some justification, thinks that doctors earn well. This, the medical profession maintains, is not entirely true. Hospital doctors are on low incomes.
“Indeed, a 2004 study by UK economic research group NERA showed German hospital physicians at the rock bottom of a list of 11 western countries in terms of compensation, earning between 35,000 and 65,000 euros ($41,000 to $77,000) per year. A similar OECD study showed German physicians earning 15 percent less than their counterparts in the UK, and 40 percent less than US doctors.”
Meanwhile, the public sector has been on strike in a number of states for six weeks, closing down kindergardens, some hospital services and rubbish collections. Stuttgart, normally one of the cleanest cities in the world, is swimming in garbage. (And nobody who lives in London can gloat over that.)

The issue is once again working hours, with the employers wanting to extend the working week to 40 hours from 38.5 without any increas in pay.
“They say they need to ease up pressure on state coffers -- personnel costs consume almost one-half of state budgets -- and argue that many other civil servants, not to mention the private sector, already work 40-hour weeks. Employers argue that they are asking public-sector employees to only add 18 minutes to each working day.”
There is talk of outside arbitrators being brought in to try to settle the dispute.

The doctors and the public servants have been joined by metal workers, who have gone on strike, protesting possible increase in working hours without increase in pay.

All the unions in question insist that the public is completely behind them, principally because their case is good and, anyway, they strike so rarely. There is, however, some indication that the public is getting to be rather fed up with the strikes. Uncollected rubbish and interrupted medical and child-care services are not the most popular of developments in any country.


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