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Germany could see more train strikes this winter, says union boss

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
Germany could see more train strikes this winter, says union boss
Travellers at Frankfurt main station on Wednesday as GDL strike got underway. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Helmut Fricke

The latest strike by the German Train Drivers' Union (GDL) started on Wednesday, but more are in the pipeline if Deutsche Bahn doesn't present a new offer by Friday, the union says.

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The long-distance and regional rail network in Germany has been paralysed after a three-day strike by members of the GDL began on Wednesday. 

And GDL chief Claus Weselsky has not ruled out more action in the coming weeks. 

As the industrial action got underway, Weselsky stressed he was "ready for compromise" but added that the union is looking for a better offer from Deutsche Bahn (DB) in the coming days. 

"If nothing happens by Friday, we will take a break and then continue with the next industrial action," said Weselsky in a interview with German broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

READ ALSO: Train strike: How will travel in Germany's five largest cities be affected?

What's the row about?

The union is fighting for better pay and conditions for its 10,000 members, arguing that employees are overworked and dealing with rising costs due to inflation. 

Among the demands is a reduction to the week for shift workers from 38 to 35 hours with full wage compensation, a salary increase and an inflation payment. 

Deutsche Bahn said last month it had made an offer of an 11-percent wage increase going into talks, as well as a "bonus to compensate for inflation" of up to €2,850. 

GDL union boss Claus Weselsky on January 9th.

GDL union boss Claus Weselsky on January 9th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

The operator added at the weekend that it had submitted an improved offer on the demands for a reduction of working hours, which has so far been a sticking point in the row.

But Weselsky on Wednesday slammed the latest offer from DB, calling it a "provocation".

READ ALSO: Train strikes and farmer protests snarl German transport

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He said that the union is prepared to make compromises on this front, for instance by gradually introducing reduced working hours. But he said DB has signalled that this demand won't happen. 

It is only prepared to talk to the trade union about extending existing optional working time models, said Weselsky.

What's the reaction?

Politicians and rights groups have been getting involved.

Transport Minister Volker Vissing, of the Free Democrats, called on both sides to get back round the negotiating table. 

"A way must be found that both sides can come to terms with," Wissing told German daily Bild on Wednesday, adding: "We must talk to each other."

The passenger association Pro Bahn also called for a swift agreement between DB and the GDL.

As a democratic association, it "fundamentally supports the right to strike", Bavarian state chairman and national vice chairman of Pro Bahn, Lukas Iffländer, told Bayerischer Rundfunk.

However, this must be "the last major round of strikes" and both sides must reach an agreement, he urged. 

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The GDL's multi-day strike began in passenger transport around 2am on Wednesday and is set to finish on Friday evening around 6pm.

A strike in freight transport started on Tuesday evening. 

An emergency timetable from DB is in place, but around 80 percent of long-distance services are cancelled. There are also far-reaching restrictions on regional and commuter services, although the extent of these varies depending on the region.

It comes after Deutsche Bahn failed in a final attempt to overturn the industrial action at the Hesse State Labour Court.

The rail operator last year also clashed with the EVG rail union, which represents some 180,000 non-driver rail personnel, reaching an agreement in late August.

The railway strike, which hit long-distance, regional and commuter lines, comes amid a week-long protest by farmers over an end to tax breaks as the government seeks to trim spending.

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