Both sides dig in heels ahead of rail strike

7th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

7 August 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Deutsche Bahn, Germany's state-owned rail network, made clear Tuesday there would be no new offer to train drivers' union GDL before a strike deadline passes later in the day, as GDL prepared to cripple goods traffic across the country from Thursday.

7 August 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Deutsche Bahn, Germany's state-owned rail network, made clear Tuesday there would be no new offer to train drivers' union GDL before a strike deadline passes later in the day, as GDL prepared to cripple goods traffic across the country from Thursday.

There was considerable sympathy for the train drivers' demand for a substantial pay increase, with an unscientific telephone poll by national news broadcaster n-tv showing respondents roughly equally divided.

But economist Claudia Kemfert of the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) said the GDL's call for a 31-per-cent pay rise was "completely overstated."

Kemfert said any pay rise above 7 per cent would be "dangerous" economically.

Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee called on both sides to show greater willingness to compromise. "A solution is only possible if extreme positions are abandoned," he said.

The German government has thus far stayed away from the conflict, on the grounds that wage deals are conducted in Germany on the basis of autonomy from the government, even in the case of the state-owned DB.

DB has struck a 4.5-per-cent deal with two other unions representing 134,000 rail staff, but this was rejected by the GDL, which is also demanding that its pay talks be uncoupled from those with the other unions representing mainly less skilled staff.

The DIW put the costs to German industry from the strike at around 100 million euros (137 million dollars).

Important industrial sectors, like steel production and processing, motor manufacture and bulk chemicals would be worst affected, experts said.

These sectors had fewer transport alternatives available. The food and household goods sector would be less affected, as road transport offered a viable alternative.

DB Human Resources Director Margret Suckale said no new offer would be made to the GDL before a Tuesday evening deadline passed. She suggested appointing an independent mediator.

GDL chief Manfred Schell said the union's demand for separate pay talks was non-negotiable and he rejected Suckale's suggestion of a mediator. "One can, however, discuss the extent of the pay rise," he told national television broadcaster ZDF.

Steel producer Salzgitter stressed the essential role of rail in transporting its raw materials and finished goods, and a spokesman for Volkswagen, Europe's largest car maker, said the company was "taking the strike more than seriously."

BMW said it was seeking additional capacity from road haulage firms to transport its cars. Some 55 per cent of the 3,500 cars made a day by the company in Germany were normally carried by rail, a spokesman said.

"A goods train can take 200 cars, and a truck just eight," he noted.

DPA

Subject: German news

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