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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 15:56 GMT
Strike misery hits German flights
Trams with union flags in Frankfurt
Public transport has been badly hit
Hundreds of German flights were cancelled on Tuesday as a strike by public sector workers intensified.

The dispute has also left some rubbish uncollected and hit local transport, kindergartens, hospitals and local authorities.

The public service workers' union, Verdi, is demanding pay rises of more than 3% for its four million members.

Tuesday's strike, the latest in a series, comes ahead of pay talks on Wednesday.

The national air carrier Lufthansa said 25,000 passenger-bookings had been hit by the scrapping of 300 of its services.

It's in the interest of everyone who uses public services that we reach a deal

Frank Bsirske
Verdi leader
It was a "black day," said a Lufthansa spokesman, with many people hoping to fly home for Christmas facing problems in rebooking their flights so close to the holiday.

At Frankfurt airport, a three-hour stoppage by baggage handlers forced 164 flights to be halted. Firefighters also joined the strike at one point.

Services at Frankfurt were later returning to normal, but other airports were still in difficulties.

Public transport systems in Essen, Dortmund, Cologne and Bonn were badly affected, causing rush-hour problems for commuters.

Traffic wardens

The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia was worst hit.

Even traffic wardens joined the dispute in Muelheim in the industrial Ruhr valley.

In addition to the 3% pay increase, trade unions want greater equality in pay between workers in the former communist Eastern Germany and the richer West.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder's policies are pleasing neither side
The strike comes amid growing discontent with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's handling of the economy.

Neither business leaders nor workers have welcomed his attempts to bolster a sagging economy with tax rises and public spending cuts.

The government wants a complete freeze on public sector wages. Interior Minister Otto Schily says meeting the 3% demand would cost six billion euros, which the country can ill afford.

But unions warn they will step up the action if Wednesday's talks fail to yield results.

If there is no agreement "the conflict will escalate," said Verdi leader Frank Bsirske.

"It's in the interest of everyone who uses public services that we reach a deal," he said.

"Public sector workers want good wages for doing good work and don't want to be trailing the private sector."

Public service sector workers have been carrying out sporadic stoppages since December 5.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr Helmutt Haussmann
"Chancellor Schroeder must decide [to introduce] more flexibility in labour markets."
See also:

16 Dec 02 | Business
07 Dec 02 | Europe
07 Nov 02 | Business
28 Oct 02 | Business
16 Oct 02 | Business
23 Sep 02 | Business
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