German rail strike to end early, before Wall fall celebration

7th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

German train drivers said they would end a nationwide rail strike early, on Saturday at 1700 GMT, following days of travel chaos that sparked fierce criticism.

GDL trade union chief Claus Weselsky announced Friday the early end to the industrial action, which started with freight services on Wednesday, added passenger trains the next day and had been due to continue until early Monday.

The large-scale strike, which has largely paralysed rail travel in Europe's biggest economy, will now end on the eve of celebrations Sunday in the capital to mark a quarter-century since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Weselsky called the move a "gesture of reconciliation" when he made the surprise announcement in Frankfurt.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn had earlier legally challenged the unprecedented strike action, but two labour court rulings had found the union was within its rights to stop work.

The personnel chief of Deutsche Bahn, Ulrich Weber, called the latest development "good for our customers and our staff".

The company is now urgently working to resume its normal schedules on local and intercity trains as soon as possible after the strike ends, it said in a statement.

The work stoppage -- the sixth bout of industrial action since September -- hit long-distance and regional rail services as well as commuter S-Bahn train networks.

On Friday only a third of regional routes were serviced, said Deutsche Bahn.

GDL has charged that Deutsche Bahn is stonewalling in talks over workers' demands for a five-percent wage hike and a shorter working week of 37 hours.

Some 500 members of the union on Friday staged a rally outside Deutsche Bahn headquarters in central Berlin, where they had travelled on buses from various parts of Germany.

Some waved banners demanding shorter work hours, complaining of frequent overtime and claiming that "our batteries are empty".

Union leaders also want to represent other groups of employees, not just drivers, within Deutsche Bahn such as conductors, catering staff and dispatchers.

According to a poll released Thursday, 51 percent of Germans say they do not support the strike, while 46 percent voiced understanding.

The winners have been rental car companies and long distance coach operators.

The bus company MeinFernbus said it had scheduled 500 additional services for the weekend, as bookings were four times higher than normal.

As Berlin gears up to host hundreds of thousands of visitors for weekend festivities for the Wall's anniversary, the head of the tourism group Visit Berlin, Burkhard Kieker, welcomed the strike's early end.

"In the end, the train drivers saw reason, that (they) shouldn't hamper the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Wall's fall so much," he said in a statement.

© 2014 AFP

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