BERLIN -- Germany's largest industrial union, IG Metall, has vowed to intensify stoppages this week after talks in the country's industrial heartland stalled on Monday with employers refusing to raise their pay offer.
IG Metall in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia rejected an employer offer of less than half the four percent rise it is claiming and said it would stage mass walkouts on Tuesday.
It said carmaker Ford's plant in Cologne would be hit by the action to protest the offer and an employer demand for longer working hours. Some 12,000 workers at 58 companies downed tools across Germany briefly on Monday.
Union leaders have described the employers' offer for two rises of 1.2 percent over 27 months for some 3.5 million engineering workers as a "provocation".
"Because the employers are not budging we have to make sure there is some movement," said IG Metall regional leader in central Germany, Klaus Mehrens, who called on thousands of workers to down tools again on Tuesday.
He did not specify which firms would be hit.
At the union's head office in Frankfurt, spokeswoman Martina Helmerich said a deal was unlikely in the near future.
"Looking at things as they stand today there are no signals the employers will make a better offer. But things can change over the week," she said.
IG Metall's leadership will assess the impact of the short stoppages and determine its future strategy next week. However, it was too early to talk of an all-out strike, said Helmerich.
"There is a big time window before we get to the point of voting to strike... In the next two, three, four weeks, 15 rounds of talks are scheduled in various areas, deals could be reached there," she said.
In the meantime, IG Metall says it will use short stoppages, a typical feature of German wage talks, to pressure employers.
In the state of Bavaria, where carmaker BMW and industrial giant Siemens are based, IG Metall said it would urge 50,000 to 100,000 workers to walk out on Friday if employers do not present a new offer on Thursday.
Talks in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which traditionally leads pay negotiations for the rest of Germany and where carmaker DaimlerChrysler AG is based, also resume on Thursday. IG Metall leader for the region, Joerg Hofmann, said a deal was a long way off.
"I don't think that the employers will officially make a new offer," Hofmann told Berliner Zeitung newspaper."Going by statements made so far the other side will remain stubborn, despite our demands and despite the warning strikes."
But Martin Kannegiesser, president of employers' federation Gesamtmetall indicated a deal was attainable through talks.
"In the next rounds of talks, the important thing will be to fathom how much each side can move towards the other," he told Reuters. "Both sides have to show some movement."
But first, IG Metall had to show it was prepared to compromise over working hours, he said.
Employers are asking workers to accept variable hours to match demand. IG Metall says that would represent the return of the 40-hour week and would amount to a 17.5 percent cut in wages. It also says it could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Economists are pessimistic about the prospects for an early deal, saying prolonged strikes are probable. The last wage talks two years ago led to a 10-day strike, the first in seven years.
Asked if union members were prepared to stage an all-out strike this year, Hofmann said: "We are preparing carefully for that possibility. But I would like to emphasise that it is not in our interest to get into a strike."