BERLIN -- Germany faced a strike by engineering workers in its economically depressed east on Tuesday as talks on shortening the working week there failed.
Engineering union IG Metall, which represents 310,000 eastern workers in carmaking and other sectors, said it would propose a strike ballot. A strike could start in early June.
IG Metall is demanding a cut in weekly working hours to 35 from the current 38, to bring the region into line with western Germany where engineering workers already have a 35-hour week.
A strike could hit car makers and car components suppliers, including Volkswagen AG and Opel.
IG Metall has said the working week needs to be shortened to close a "fairness gap" in working conditions between the east and west.
Employers have argued that working hours should only be cut when businesses in eastern German become as productive as western businesses.
"We first need to close the productivity gap before we can close the fairness gap that IG Metall claims there is," said Hans Werner Busch, regional head of employers' federation Gesamtmetall.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, fighting to revive the stagnant economy with welfare cuts opposed by left-wing members of his party and trade unions, has called the engineering dispute "very worrying" given high unemployment in the region.
Eastern Germany's seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in April was 18.7 percent, compared with 8.5 percent in the west.