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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
BMW hopes to restart German plants
Striker at Eko Steel, the largest east German steel factory in Eisenhuettenstadt
Strikers have agreed to resume talks

BMW is planning to reopen its factories in eastern Germany on Monday as the three-week dispute between unions and employers looks set to be resolved.

The news comes as the IG Metall industrial union agreed to negotiate with employers at talks on Friday, and the union chief said there had been a "de-escalation of the conflict".

Strikers have been demanding a reduction in the working week to 35 hours - the norm in western Germany - from 38 hours.

Germany's largest union, the IG Metall industrial union, has agreed to meet with employers' negotiators at a Berlin hotel on Friday, said Werner Riek, a spokesman for the Gesamtmetall employers' association.

The strike, which began on 1 June, involves hundreds of firms which supply parts to the car industry, and has closed plants of car makers such as BMW and Volkswagen.

It attracted little attention until it forced a halt to production on Monday of 800 3-Series cars per day at BMW's Munich factory and 850 of the mid-sized cars in Regensburg.

BMW said it would probably be able to restart production of its 3-series cars on Monday, while IG Metall said some other factories could resume work as early as Thursday.

Arguing over hours

The IG Metall industrial union is seeking a deal that gradually cuts the working week to 35 hours by 2009.

Employers have resisted reducing working hours, saying the extra three hours are needed because of lower productivity in the east.

They also believe the 38-hour week is key to drawing investment to a region where the unemployment rate is twice that in western Germany.

However, the union argues that productivity in the region has improved in the 13 years since reunification in 1990.

Differences in working practices between Germany's two halves are particularly sensitive, since eastern German workers have often felt they have been treated as second-class citizens.

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