Germany Braces For Further Strikes | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.03.2008
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Germany Braces For Further Strikes

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn said it had gone to court in a bid to block a threatened strike by train drivers next week. Seperately, pay talks collapsed between public sector employers and unions.

An empty train platform

Train stations in Berlin were deserted this week

Deutsche Bahn on Friday said it had gone to court in a bid to block the threatened strike on national and suburban networks by train drivers' union, GDL. A spokesman said Deutsche Bahn has lodged a complaint with the labor court in Frankfurt and was expecting a ruling on Monday morning.

This dispute is not about pay, but demarcation between the trade unions. Drivers organized in a small union, the GDL, are planning to shut down all passenger and freight operations, if Deutsche Bahn does not grant them a separate labor contract, with no right of veto held by larger unions.GDL has staged a series of warning strikes since summer, but is frustrated that agreements the union made with Deutsche Bahn afterwards have yet to be finalized.

Deutsche Bahn said earlier Friday it had devised a back-up plan to limit the fallout and promised that at least half of normal trains should run on Monday even if GDL went ahead with the strike.

Deutsche Bahn has been backed by the big unions, which traditionally depend on the drivers' strength to win pay rises for cleaners and clerks. An earlier deal with Deutsche Bahn, which was struck after a dispute lasting almost a year, has come unstuck.

DB has chartered engines and drivers from other railways companies to haul essential goods trains supplying factories next week.

Offer "not acceptable"

Separately, top government negotiator, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, said public sector employers had called off pay talks with services union, Verdi in Potsdam near Berlin. The next step will be to take the dispute to arbitration, via a mediation procedure prescribed by German labor law.

Schaeuble said the stand-off came because unions refused to budge over public bodies' demands for longer working hours. Employers had offered to gradually raise pay by 5 percent over two years, if weekly working hours rise from 38.5 to 40.

"This is not acceptable," Verdi chief Frank Bsirske told a press conference. "We did not see progress on an offer. We were told to accept an extension of the working week as a pre-condition for an improved offer."

Stepping up pressure

A train pulling into a station

The train strikes are causing chaos

Against a backdrop of slackening economic growth, unions are pushing to secure wage gains for the low paid sectors before the next round of belt tightening.

Verdi and other unions have been stepping up pressure in recent weeks, with nurses, refuse collectors, airport workers, administrative staff and childcare professionals participating in rolling strikes. Verdi is fighting to get an 8 percent increase in salary or an additional 200 euros ($300) per month.

In a second conflict currently raging in the capital, Verdi's public transport workers continued an unlimited strike for a third day, and are gearing up for an all-out strike next week.

Berlin's underground transit train system came to a standstill, and only 100 out of 1200 city buses continued to operate.

The strikes caused chaos amongst commuters, who were forced to walk or use cars and taxis.

Government appeals to unions

Union members with banners

Union are demanding an 8 percent pay rise for employees in public services

The German government appealed Friday to the train drivers and Deutsche Bahn to think twice about an all-out confrontation and the rail strike next week.

"The renewed escalation is difficult to sympathize with," said Ulrich Wilhelm, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman.

He appealed to the company, which is owned by Berlin but independently managed, and the GDL drivers' union to end their dispute for the sake of other employees, rail customers and the Germany economy.

"The minister appeals to both parties to leave no stone unturned to avoid a strike. A strike would be immensely bad for the economy, for millions of passengers. We appeal to common sense of both parties to come to a settlement at the last minute," said a spokesman for Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee.

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