HANOVER, Germany - Volkswagen may have thrown down the gauntlet ahead of wage talks next month, but trade union sources said on Tuesday they are not gearing up for a strike just yet.
"It's not as if two speeding trains are on a collision course," one union source told Reuters.
"There is nothing automatic about it," the source said of prospects for a strike, noting that the talks had to start before any thought is given to escalating the confrontation.
Volkswagen's personnel chief Peter Hartz said on Monday there was "no leeway" for wage increases for the next two years for the 103,000 employees in its six western German plants.
The struggling carmaker, plagued by high production costs and massive currency headwinds, mapped out a seven-point plan aimed at cutting labor costs by 30 percent -- about 2 billion euros -- over the next six years.
German metalworkers' union IG Metall, which is seeking both a 4 percent pay rise and job guarantees for the next 10 years, has called the demands "exorbitant" and indirectly threatened a labor conflict.
Hartmut Meine, the union's top negotiator in the upcoming talks, also criticized comments from Lower Saxony's Economics Minister Walter Hirche in the Tuesday edition of German daily Berliner Zeitung.
Hirche, who sits on VW's supervisory board as a trustee of Lower Saxony's 18-percent stake, said VW's plans were necessary to ensure the company can be competitive in the future.
Following accusations from IG Metall and Social Democrats that the minister had clearly sided with VW, state premier Christian Wulff, a Christian Democrat, was forced to reaffirm the government's desire not to interfere in the negotiations.
This was not the first time Wulff's economics minister has prompted controversy.
Hirche, a member of the junior coalition partner Free Democrats, caused an uproar in mid-April when he suggested that the state might sell its VW stake following the end of the current legislative period in three years' time.
Wulff later said there would be no talk of a sale as long as he runs the government, reaffirming its commitment as a long-term shareholder.