A Sagging Safety Net

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BONN: More than 45,000 German auto workers and civil servants went out on strike Tuesday to protest a new law which cuts sick pay to 80 percent of full pay. Companies like Adam Opel AG and Mercedes-Benz are running into trouble with labor unions for complying with the law since their existing contracts provide full sick pay. "We will not cease our action until Opel AG takes back this breach of contract," said union spokesman Peter Jaszczyk. "The German social net is the finest in the world," says TIME's Bonn bureau chief, Bruce Van Voorst. "These new laws are only making marginal, moderate cuts in what will still be one of the best social safety nets anywhere. German wages and employment costs are too high for the country to remain competitive." Furthermore, says Van Voorst, Germans are taking unfair advantage. "There's a lot of malingering going on. Germany has one of the world's highest sick day dropout rates. If people feel tired or hungover Monday morning, sometimes they just don't come to work." The measure is one of several laws intended to reduce German labor costs, among the highest in the world. The German government is betting that a drop in labor costs will reduce unemployment, which hit a high of four million people earlier this year. Scot Woods