German railway might avoid crippling strike

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9 Mar, 2008 Updated Sun 9 Mar 2008 13:58 CEST
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Germany’s state-owned railway Deutsche Bahn is hoping to avert a crippling nationwide train strike in last ditch talks late on Sunday. But even if a resolution is found, rail traffic is not expected to function normally on Monday.

That's not good news for commuters in Berlin, where the public transportation system has been at a standstill since Wednesday due to an unrelated public sector strike by trade union Verdi. Come Monday, the German capital will have only very limited bus and regional train service.

The Verdi-led public sector strikes have also resulted in limited labour protests in professions diverse as police officers, nurses, daycare workers and trash collectors across the entire country.

But it's the train conductors’ walkout that is expected to cause chaos in Germany's largest city Berlin next week. Labour representatives reported no progress in the local transit strike over the weekend, which has pushed hundreds of thousands of metro, bus and tram riders in Berlin onto commuter trains, which will now also stand still due to the railway strike.

German train driver’s union GDL and state-owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn headed into talks on Sunday after nearing agreement on several difficult points during four hours of negotiations on Saturday, the news agency DPA reported.

"Everything is open. We hope to come to an agreement on Sunday," GDL deputy chief Claus Weselsky told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

GDL has warned it could harm the economy with indefinite strikes if an agreement is not reached. The union has vowed that, failing an accord, it would launch an indefinite strike at midnight Sunday.

Deutsche Bahn has asked the labour court in Frankfurt to declare the strike illegal and is expecting a ruling Monday morning.

Deutsche Bahn and GDL have been involved in a standoff since last year. Drivers staged several strikes before the two sides announced in late January that they had reached an agreement that included an 11 percent pay rise for the drivers.

But the accord was not finalized, with GDL saying that the railway reneged on a deal reached to give it a special contract independent of other unions.

Meanwhile, Verdi’s strike has taken on a nationwide scale including several key public sector professions. Wage negotiations for Verdi’s 1.3 million public sector workers broke down on Friday after the fifth round of talks.

Verdi wants an 8 percent increase in salary or an additional €200 ($300) per month. Public employers have proposed a five percent increase over two years, along with an extension of the workweek from 38.5 hours to 40 hours.

“We will do our best to ensure the parties to the wage agreement reach an deal by March 29. But it will be a long road to that point,” arbitrator Herbert Schmalstieg told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.




2008/03/09 13:58

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