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German train drivers begin strike

The German train drivers' union GDL has begun an indefinite strike for freight trains; passenger services will be affected as of Wednesday. It's not yet clear when the strike will come to an end.

GDL, the union of engine drivers in Germany, announced it was

halting operations

beginning Tuesday at 3 p.m. local time (1300 UTC) for freight trains. Passenger trains would be affected beginning at 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Deutsche Bahn (DB) was meanwhile working on an emergency travel plan to keep schedules as normal as possible over the Pentecost holiday.

"We have been taken for a ride," GDL union boss Claus Weselsky said while announcing the strike late Monday evening, but he did not rule out talks to negotiate with the employer, DB.

The GDL union, which represents some 20,000 train drivers, is demanding a 5-percent pay hike for drivers, a two-hour cut in drivers' working week as well as the right to represent other rail workers such as conductors and restaurant carriage staff.

GDL accuses DB of not taking discussions on employees' salaries seriously and says the railway company is deliberately delaying an agreement because of a pending bill on equal salary packages in the German parliament, slated for debate on Friday. The larger railway union EVG has also threatened to stop work if its demands are not met.

GDL's demands could create a problem for DB, with EVG, which has about 100,000 members, also discussing wages Thursday.

EVG and GDL negotiate wages for separate professional categories depending upon the number of people they represent. The stronger union usually has the right to negotiate in wage discussions, a point which has contributed to GDL's decision to strike in a bid to have the rule changed.

The current strike is GDL's ninth since negotiations failed with DB last year, the third such strike in 2015 and the longest since the one in the beginning of May, when GDL members quit work for six days.

The last strike may have cost the German economy 755 million euros ($855.7 million).

This week's walkout could result in 500 million euro ($565 million) loss for German companies, Eric Schweitzer, chief of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry told the media.

mg/kms (Reuters, dpa)

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