German train drivers' union ballots members on unlimited strikes

The Local Germany
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German train drivers' union ballots members on unlimited strikes
Passengers gather on the platforms of Hamburg Hauptbahnhof during a two-day GDL warning strike in November. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bodo Marks

The German train drivers' union is polling members on whether to hold unrestricted strikes amid an ongoing pay and conditions dispute with employer Deutsche Bahn.


Just two weeks after the GDL train drivers' union and Deutsche Bahn held their first round of talks, the battle over pay and working hours has escalated once more.

According to GDL boss Claus Weselsky, the union is balloting its members on whether to hold unlimited strikes - a situation that could paralyse national and local trains services for weeks on end.

"We expect our members to give a clear answer to the employers' stalling tactics," Weselsky said, referring to Deutsche Bahn's refusal to negotiate on working hours.

According to the GDL, 75 percent of members need to vote in favour of unrestricted strikes in order for them to take place.

Unlike warning strikes, this type of industrial action does not have to be capped at few days and can continue indefinitely until a solution is found. 

No concrete timeline has been laid out for the ballot, so the results could take a number of weeks to come through. 

READ ALSO: Is Germany set for more train strikes in the weeks ahead?

On Wednesday, however, Weselsky also issued a stark warning to the national rail operator that more warning strikes could come in due course.

"The next warning strike is sure to come," the union leader told the Rheinische Post. "We won't take too much time for that."

On Tuesday, the union boss had ruled out strikes over the Christmas period.

Shorter working hours

The last round of GDL warning strikes last Wednesday and Thursday saw around 80 percent of long-distance train services cancelled around Germany. S-Bahn and regional train services were also unable to run for the duration of the 20-hour strike.

Disruption continued into Friday. 

In the negotiations for a new collective agreement, the union is demanding at least €555 more per month for workers over a year, as well as a €3,000 tax-free inflation compensation bonus.


Deutsche Bahn has countered with this by offering a 11-percent pay rise over 32 months, as well as a €2,850 tax-free bonus to compensate for inflation. 

READ ALSO: German train drivers union rules out strikes over Christmas

However, the real sticking point is the GDL's calls for a reduction in working hours from 38 to 35 for the same amount of pay.

Weselsky has argued that this would make the profession more attractive in light of the ongoing worker shortage. But Deutsche Bahn has refused to enter into talks on this point, claiming that they would need ten percent more staff to make up for the resulting shortfall. 


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