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Striking train drivers stall Germany's rail network

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-08 09:37
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A train stands parked outside the central station in Frankfurt, Germany on Thursday after train drivers walked of the job in pursuit of better pay and conditions. MICHAEL PROBST/AP

Germany's famously efficient railway system was set to stand largely idle on Thursday and Friday, after train drivers went on strike in a dispute over pay and conditions.

The Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivfuhrer union, or GDL, which represents the drivers, called the strike on Wednesday, after talks with state-owned national rail operator Deutsche Bahn hit an impasse.

The strike, which was aimed at both passenger trains and freight trains, was also set to impact regional train operators, including AKN Eisenbahn, City-Bahn Chemnitz, and Transdev, the union said.

Deutsche Bahn issued a statement to passengers, saying: "Please refrain from unnecessary journeys during the GDL strike and postpone your journey to another time."

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, or DW, said the cities of Berlin and Hamburg were expected to be especially hard hit by the industrial action because of the union's strength there.

The Reuters news agency said GDL is also currently balloting its 34,000 members, to gauge support for a long-running national strike. The result of that ballot is expected on Dec 19. The Associated Press, or AP, said the last-minute, short strike, known as a warning strike in Germany, could, therefore, be followed by a much longer national strike as soon as Jan 7.

The industrial action is part of the union's push for a reduction in train drivers' working hours, from 38 hours a week to 35, and a pay rise for its members of 555 euros ($598) a month. It is also seeking a one-off bonus of 3,000 euros for each driver.

Deutsche Bahn has rejected the reduction in hours, saying it is impossible because of a labor shortage. And it has countered the demand for a pay rise by offering an increase of 11 percent, which the union has rejected.

GDL chairman Claus Weselsky said after two rounds of talks with the employer broke down that Deutsche Bahn's refusal to let workers reduce their hours meant the company was "ignoring the legitimate needs of their own employees".

"They are also torpedoing urgently needed measures for successful staff recruitment," DW quoted him as saying.

He added that the company's position "jeopardizes the future of the most climate-friendly means of transport — the railway".

Deutsche Bahn's human resources manager, Martin Seiler, countered by saying the walkout was "irresponsible and selfish".

"Instead of negotiating and facing up to reality, the train drivers' union is going on strike over demands that cannot be fulfilled," AP quoted him as saying.

Deutsche Bahn was also recently at loggerheads with another German rail union, EVG, which represents many more workers than GDL but that is traditionally less militant. EVG and Deutsche Bahn settled that dispute earlier this year following independent arbitration.

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