German doctors pay strike enters critical phase
BERLIN, May 14 :A mounting pay dispute between doctors and employers in Germany enters a critical phase next week with more than 20,000 doctors due to launch a week-long strike tomorrow after efforts to reach a deal failed.
Germany's Marburger Bund doctors' association said the strikes would hit nearly 37 university clinics and hospitals in 39 towns and cities across the country as medical professionals step up their efforts to force through a pay increase.
The Marburger Bund, which is representing some 22,000 staff in their stand-off with state employers, has been seeking a pay hike of 30 per cent, arguing that the country's doctors had to work millions of hours a year for which they were not paid.
The TdL group representing state employers have offered 16 percent more pay in exchange for extending weekly working hours to 42 hours from 38.5 hours, but this was rejected by the Bund as an effective wage rise of just over one per cent.
Frank Ulrich Montgomery, head of the Marburger Bund, told Reuters at the weekend that the ''arrogance'' and ''stubbornness'' of the TdL had caused the latest talks to fail on Friday.
''The anger and willingness to strike are rising,'' he said.
Up until now, the strikes, which are currently in their eighth straight week, have only lasted a few days at a time.
Media coverage of the conflict has intensified as round after round of talks founders between Montgomery and TdL chief negotiator, Lower Saxony finance minister Hartmut Moellring.
The wage dispute affects nearly one sixth of all Germany's doctors, who remain on call to cope with emergencies.
Although Health Minister Ulla Schmidt has appealed to both sides to reach a deal, Chancellor Angela Merkel has hitherto been reluctant to intervene in the conflict.
Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, said as she leads a grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats (SPD), it was harder for Merkel to take a stand on the issue without creating tensions in the government.
''It's become a bit of a no-win situation,'' he said. ''(The SPD) wants unions right to negotiate wages to be respected, while (the conservatives) don't want them to be too strong.'' As a result, the federal government has had to tread much more carefully when dealing with strikes, he added.
''There have been more strikes under this coalition this year than in all the years of the previous coalition,'' he said.
A spate of strikes in the public sector has hit Germany this year, focusing chiefly on working conditions and pay.
Neugebauer said the fact doctors were generally held in high regard probably helped to curb public discontent on the issue.
''But if the strikes continue, I think public pressure via the media will rise,'' he said. ''Then we'll see if politicians stay out of it in the same way as they have up until now.