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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
German builders down tools
German construction workers
The German construction sector is struggling
Thousands of German building workers have abandoned their posts in the country's first construction industry strike since World War II.

Initially, building sites in Berlin and Hamburg will be targeted, with the action gradually spreading to other parts of the country.

"We're going to expand the strike every day as long as they refuse to make a new offer," said union leader Klaus Wiesehuegel.

IG Bau members count ballots of the strike vote
Union members chose to strike - but will non-union workers follow?
The construction trade union, IG Bau, is demanding a 4.5% pay rise for the industry's 900,000-strong labour force.

For Chancellor Schroeder, who faces national elections in less than a 100 days, this strike is potentially the most damaging in the wave of disputes which have swept Germany in the past couple of months.

Bankruptcy concerns

Many building firms are facing bankruptcy, the result of one of the deepest recessions the German construction industry has ever known.

Earlier this year, Philipp Holzmann filed for insolvency in one of Germany's largest ever corporate failures.

Despite this, a ballot result announced at the weekend showed more than 98% of trade union members voting backed a strike.

Mr Wiesehuegel, says his members are highly motivated and prepared for a long battle.

The strikes will expand to southern Germany on Wednesday and nationwide by next Monday if talks over pay are not resumed.

Job losses

One of the union's key demands rejected by employers is for a rise in the minimum pay rate in Eastern Germany.

The union says the use of low-cost, often migrant labour has cost many of its members their jobs.

Of the 900,000 employed in the construction industry, fewer than half are unionised, raising the prospect of angry clashes if non-union workers try to cross picket lines.

Economists and business leaders warn that a prolonged conflict would accelerate the rate of job losses in the industry.

That, they say, would put back a hoped-for recovery in the wider German economy.

It is estimated that a strike of 40,000 people will cost the industry 20m euros each day.

About 500,000 construction industry jobs have been lost since 1995.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"The strikes are unprecedented in modern Germany's history"

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