End may be in sight for West German metalworkers' strike

The outlook in West Germany's key metalworkers' labor dispute is sufficiently optimistic for the arbitrator to have announced his proposal Tuesday. The framework compromise now made public would entail reduction in the present 40-hour work week to 38.5 hours - but leave application flexible enough to permit anything from a 37- to a 40-hour week for different plants and different categories of workers.

It would enter into force next April 1, with an overall nominal 2 percent wage increase, and run until at least Sept. 30, 1986.

Following a marathon 12-hour overnight session just before the announcement, the arbitration committee went back behind closed doors Tuesday to negotiate further.

The proposal by arbitration chairman and Social Democratic politician Georg Leber also entails a 3.3 percent wage increase from July 1, 1984, through March 31, 1985, in the bellwether metal and engineering industry.

At this point everyone is hoping for a quick settlement of the metalworkers' selective strikes that have now gone on seven weeks and brought auto production to a standstill. Both management and labor - who under the terms of arbitration must approve any settlement unanimously - are expressing cautious optimism about the proposal.

Details of the Leber package are not yet known.

But the speculation is that the management concession of principle in accepting a standard 38.5-hour week will be offset by leeway for smaller and poorer firms to continue their 40-hour week where needed to stay in the black.

Formally, the arbitration applies only to the prosperous region of North Baden and North Wurttemberg. In practice, however, the settlement in this conflict will set the general pattern both for the engineering industry nationwide and for the unions.

At the moment the printing industry and unions in particular need just such a prod to get out of the present deadlock in the 12th week of their conflict. A mediation proposal was rejected out of hand last week by the Publishers' Association, and the print unions now say they will not resume talks until management comes up with a new bid.

In other developments on the strike front the constitutional court will rule June 28 on the legality of the decision by the Federal Labor Institute to withhold short-term unemployment compensation for workers indirectly affected by the metalworkers' strikes. The IG Metall union appealed this decision by the tripartite management-labor-government institute, criticizing it as unfair government siding with management. IG Metall has already won two lower court rulings ordering the Federal Labor Institute to pay up.

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