WORLD

German industrial workers widen strikes in wage dispute

German industrial workers are widening industrial action on Tuesday, with tens of thousands of staff at metals and engineering companies expected to down their tools in support of wage claims by union IG Metall.

With the economy in robust health and unemployment at record lows, the country's biggest union is demanding an inflation-busting 6 percent pay hike this year for about 3.9 million workers.

Ahead of a round of regional negotiations due to begin on Thursday, employers have so far offered 2 percent plus a one-off 200 euro ($240) payment in the first quarter.

IG Metall has called for industrial action at 143 companies in North Rhine-Westphalia, the industrial heartland of Germany, including LED components firm Lumileds and Thyssenkrupp unit Rothe Erde.

In Bavaria, employees at 32 companies are expected to walk out.

That adds to more than 15,000 workers that have already taken action across the nation since the start of last week.

IG Metall is also campaigning for a right to reduce weekly hours to 28 from 35, and return to full-time employment after two years, for shift workers and those caring for children or other relatives.

Employers have rejected that proposal too.

The nationwide 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 percent for the year.

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

Next door in Bavaria, home to companies such as engineering group Siemens and carmaker BMW, negotiations will resume on Jan. 15, and to the north in North Rhine-Westphalia on Jan. 18.

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