HANOVER, Germany -- German metal workers union IG Metall threatened on Thursday to start warning strikes if a wage deal with Volkswagen AG for western German staff is not reached soon.
On his way into a fourth round of wage talks, IG Metall's top negotiator Hartmut Meine said warning strikes could begin next month if the two sides fail to make a deal by the end of the fifth round of talks, scheduled for Oct. 28.
"If we don't come to an agreement on Oct. 28, there will be warning strikes starting at the beginning of November at Volkswagen," Meine told reporters.
After IG Metall declared that the third round of talks on Oct. 12 had made progress, Thursday's critical talks could lay the basis for a potential deal, although VW officials have been more wary.
IG Metall wants extensive job guarantees and 4 percent more pay for the 103,000 workers at VW's six western German plants, countering management demands for a two-year freeze in wages.
But unions in Germany, which has the highest wages in the auto industry, are finding their backs to the wall in the depressed economy.
Car production resumed at General Motor's Opel plant in Bochum, Germany, on Wednesday after employees there ended a wildcat strike in protest at plans for sweeping job cuts in Europe, although labor negotiations are expected to continue for weeks.
Volkswagen's top negotiator, Josef-Fidelis Senn, said on Thursday that "the situation at VW is not comparable to those at other competitors."
Last week, VW works council Presdident Klaus Volkert gave an ultimatum to VW to guarantee planned investments that would effectively secure jobs by the time the carmaker's supervisory board meets on Nov. 12.
WAGES, NOT VW, THREATEN JOBS
After the third round of talks, IG Metall's Meine said the period for concrete negotiating had come after VW signaled that it would be willing to cement job guarantees as part of the next wage agreement.
But VW's Senn reaffirmed management's call to reduce labor costs to a competitive level, adding that no breakthrough had been achieved during the third round.
Volkswagen says its current wage agreement "threatens German jobs" because it forces VW to pay workers 11 percent more than they would earn at other German carmakers and up to 80 percent more than the company pays at its foreign production plants.
In a move uncharacteristic of Volkswagen, finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch has made a veiled threat to cut more than 30,000 jobs if unions don't agree to management's plans to reduce labor costs by 2 billion euros ($2.52 billion) by 2011.
The savings are vital as VW battles currency headwinds and weak demand in its core markets of Germany, the United States and China that forced the company to cut its 2004 operating profit forecast by $757 million to $2.39 billion.
VW's wage talks are widely seen as a key test of the willingness of German workers to accept less generous conditions in return for job guarantees in a move that could help spur growth in Europe's biggest economy.