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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

German Employers, Union Meet to Avert Strike

DARMSTADT, Germany -- Germany's biggest union met employers' leaders on Friday in a last-ditch attempt to avert a crippling all-out strike in the key engineering sector.

The engineering and metals union, IG Metall, has disrupted work nationwide by bringing around a million workers out on token stoppages in the last two weeks. Tens of thousands of its members downed tools again on Friday to keep up the pressure.

Although the talks are billed as a last chance to avoid an all-out strike, neither side appeared to hold out much hope of a deal as the negotiations began.

"We are always ready to compromise but there are limits," Hans-Joachim Gottschol, head of the employers' federation Gesamtmetall, told reporters before the meeting.

IG Metall president Klaus Zwickel said he had only slight hopes for a deal, adding: "I'm not very confident."

The union said tens of thousands of workers staged token stoppages in Berlin, Bavaria and the Rhineland-Palatinate state and more were due

The dispute revolves around both pay and working hours.

Employers say they need to cut operating costs by around 30 percent and scrap rigid working practices to regain lost competitiveness. They want a pay freeze and a reduction in so-called holiday pay -- which the union says means a 10 percent annual wage cut.

Employers seek an agreement allowing working hours to be set flexibly between 30 and 40 hours instead of sticking to the current standard 37.

"We consider this absurd," IG Metall deputy president Walter Riester said.

He said the union needed to secure at least a nominal pay rise but the employers still "want to take away people's entire holiday pay."

The union wants a pay rise of up to 6 percent but will trade this for its first priority, guarantees of job protection.

It says it could accept lower pay in return for shorter hours but not a lengthening of the work-time.

The leaders meeting in Darmstadt, in central Germany, will not have the authority to seal a final deal, which needs to be approved at regional level.

The union has said that if no progress is made toward a deal by Feb. 21, its board will meet and call a ballot on an all-out strike.