German commuters clobbered by train strike

12th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

12 October 2007, BERLIN (AFP) - Half of Germany's commuter and regional trains were brought to a standstill Friday by a train drivers' pay strike that caused chaos in many major cities.

12 October 2007

BERLIN (AFP) - Half of Germany's commuter and regional trains were brought to a standstill Friday by a train drivers' pay strike that caused chaos in many major cities.

The industrial action is a rarity in a country where unions and companies usually work closely to reach collective agreements.

Fifty percent of regional and commuter trains sat idle, with Munich, Berlin and eastern German regions hit the hardest, Deutsche Bahn figures showed.

The railway said 1,700 trains had been cancelled by midday, and the strike would cost "millions" of euros (dollars), director of commuter services Karl-Friedrich Rausch told N24 television.

"I had hoped until the last minute that a strike could be avoided," Rausch told ZDF television. He added, "there is chaos today."

Many of the network's 10 million daily passengers drove to work, creating traffic jams in major cities, automobile club ADAC spokesman Maxi Hartung told German television.

Conditions would not improve, she warned, since six northern and eastern German states were set to begin school holidays on Friday.

At Frankfurt's main station, Deutsche Bahn staff handed out coffee and fruit juice to passengers who waited to learn if their train was running.

Militants of the GDL drivers' union unfurled a banner in front of the station calling for a pay agreement, and the union said Deutsche Bahn had strong-armed striking workers, "going as far as threatening lay-offs," according to vice president Claus Weselsky.

"The methods by which our employer seeks to prevent a legal strike are unacceptable," he said.

It was the toughest GDL action against Deutsche Bahn since a dispute with train drivers erupted in July.

Last week, a German court ruled that strikes could not be extended to freight trains and long-distance routes because of the potential economic impact.

The GDL called a 22-hour strike lasting until midnight (2200 GMT) to protest the rail operator's refusal to meet its wage and contract demands.

On Thursday, Rausch had termed the strike call "unbelievable" since it came just hours before GDL president Manfred Schell was to meet Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn for talks.

Both appeared to have softened their positions later, with Mehdorn telling Schell that Deutsche Bahn would present a new offer by Monday.

Schell said the union would call no more strikes from that point until the end of October but was sceptical the railway's next offer would move things forward.

Rausch said Friday: "This strike is taking us nowhere."

GDL is one of several upstart groups that represent specific, strategic professions such as airline pilots and train drivers and have taken a much more agressive approach to labour relations.

German train drivers want pay increases of up to 31 percent and a separate contract from other rail workers. Deutsche Bahn has refused to negotiate separately while offering a better deal than one agreed earlier this year with the rail workers' unions Transnet and GDBA.

Their members are to receive pay rises of 4.5 percent from the beginning of next year along with a one-time payment of 600 euros (850 dollars).

On Friday, Transnet chief Norbert Hansen called the GDL action "a totally superfluous strike."

Schell should have cancelled his strike call pending the new Deutsche Bahn offer, Hansen added.

"I can only say that GDL strike leaders are no longer in control of events," he said.


Subject: German news

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