German rail union cancels strikes

13th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

The train drivers' union says the publicly owned rail company made big wage concessions.

Frankfurt (dpa) - The train drivers' union, which disrupted public transport in Germany last year said Sunday it had won pay rises from the Deutsche Bahn railway company and aborted plans for a fresh strike.

The announcement in Frankfurt by Manfred Schell, leader of the maverick GDL union, brings relief to the country, where car manufacturing and other key industries rely on the railways to ship their products and deliver raw materials.

The GDL had been threatening to the last to resume strikes, prompting the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to mediate in the dispute, although it normally leaves the state-owned railways company to run itself.

German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said in Berlin he had persuaded the union leader and Deutsche Bahn chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn in his office Saturday to sign off on a timetable for pay rises.

The minister showed reporters the draft, scribbled on a page of his desk diary, saying with a smile it was an "historic" document. Before the talks, "the signals were for strike," he said. The settlement was of "vast importance" to the German economy.

However the deal is not final yet.

The minister said he expected two larger rail unions, Transnet and GDBA, to give their blessing to the drivers-only accord, saying, "I'm very satisfied we have passed the last obstacle in this pay conflict."

Schell said his national executive had unanimously voted Sunday to halt preparations for more stoppages that would have choked Deutsche Bahn's passenger and freight services across the country.

This meant "with a likelihood of 99 percent" there would be no more strikes.

Bahn's chief personnel officer, Margret Suckale, said in Berlin, "We can settle the outstanding points fairly quickly." Suckale voiced relief that the union had called off strikes, but said the settlement was more than Bahn could afford.

Schell said he had won a pay hike for the drivers of 8 percent from this March, to be followed by 3 percent more in September for a total of 11 percent, plus a one-off bonus of 800 euros per employee for the past year.

Working hours would be cut in 2009 from 41 to 40 hours weekly with no loss of pay.

The settlement may encourage other German unions to step up pay claims amid widespread sentiment that labour has missed out during Germany's economic recovery.

The dispute began 10 months ago as a demarcation row between the GDL and two bigger railway unions, with GDL demanding recognition as the soil voice of the drivers, whereas Deutsche Bahn wanted to continue package deals with all unions representing its labour force.

Commentators have said in the past that gains for the drivers would trigger claims by other workers at the company, leading to increases in German passenger fares and freight charges.

Transnet and GDBA, which have a blood rivalry with GDL, said Sunday they had not yet seen the accord, but would demand that Bahn preserve the existing "income matrix" at the company and avert any jealousy between pay groups.

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