STUTTGART, Germany - DaimlerChrysler AG and union representatives have reached agreement on several points in management's plan to cut labor costs, a union spokesman said on Thursday.
Following two days of intensive negotiations this week, the two sides appear to be getting closer to reaching a comprehensive deal that could cut personnel costs by 500 million euros ($613.1 million) and guarantee job security for Mercedes employees going into the next decade.
"The next few hours will be decisive," said Frank Stroh, a spokesman from the German engineering workers union IG Metall. "No one is willing to give the other any concessions in these talks," he added.
Should the two reach an agreement in what would essentially mean more work for less pay for employees in the company's home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the deal could help fuel a trend throughout Germany for more flexible labor conditions.
Both sides were hopeful of reaching a deal on Wednesday, but a news conference tentatively scheduled by DaimlerChrysler for Thursday morning was canceled as talks overnight proved difficult.
"We're dealing with a very complex subject which requires lots of calculations," Stroh said earlier in the day.
The talks followed protests over the last week by tens of thousands of DaimlerChrysler workers alarmed by management demands for 500 million euros in cost cuts per year in Germany.
The company has threatened to shift 6,000 jobs from its main plant at Sindelfingen near Stuttgart to Bremen and South Africa unless workers agree to work longer hours and renounce a series of perks anchored in their local wage agreement.
Until now, employee representatives had only offered a package that would lower costs by 200 million instead of the 500 million DaimlerChrysler wants and have repeatedly refused to agree to changes in wage agreements in Baden-Wuerttemberg.
The dispute comes as pressure mounts on western European employees to work longer, take fewer days off and do without collective wage agreements to prevent jobs from disappearing to cheaper locations in less developed economies.
But it has also sparked renewed debate about high management pay. Bild, Germany's biggest selling newspaper, said on Thursday that DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Juergen Schrempp earned 435,000 euros per month -- 115 times as much as one of his workers.
"Is that fair?" it asked in a banner headline above one photo of a smiling Schrempp chewing a fat cigar and another of a disgruntled-looking DaimlerChrysler worker.
The German government -- trailing in opinion polls and aware of how sensitive the issue of pay is just as its unpopular welfare cuts are starting to bite -- called this week for more transparency and performance orientation in management pay but added that it was not considering caps on executive salaries.
The talks at DaimlerChrysler follow a recent agreement by workers at two Siemens AG mobile phone plants to raise weekly working hours to 40 from 35 without any corresponding pay rise.