GERMANY: German train drivers back indefinite strikes over pay

Dec. 20, 2023
Thousands of trains are likely to be cancelled in prolonged strikes in Germany next month after drivers on Tuesday escalated their wage dispute with state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

Berlin — Thousands of trains are likely to be cancelled in prolonged strikes in Germany next month after drivers on Tuesday escalated their wage dispute with state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB).

"Overall, our colleagues have sent a clear signal," Claus Weselsky, head of the train drivers' union (GDL), said in Frankfurt after its members voted overwhelmingly for indefinite industrial action.

With 97% of ballots cast by more than 70% of the union's members backing the motion, the drivers were in for the long haul, Weselsky said.

The GDL has pledged not to walk out up to and including January 7. Beyond that, Tuesday's vote allows strikes lasting for days rather than the recent 24-hour actions in the current dispute.

"What comes next will be stronger, longer and tougher for customers" in comparison with previous strikes, Weselsky warned.

The GDL and DB began negotiating at the beginning of November but quickly reached an impasse. After a second round, Weselsky said the negotiations had failed and pushed for a ballot of GDL members.

A central sticking point is the GDL's demand for a reduction in the working week from 38 to 35 hours for shift workers on full pay. The railway considers this to be infeasible, partly due to the shortage of qualified staff.

The GDL is also demanding a pay increase of €555 ($609) as well as a tax-free inflation compensation bonus. The railway company describes this as unfeasible.

In turn, Deutsche Bahn offered an 11% pay increase for a period of 32 months.

Since the start of wage negotiations at the beginning of November, the GDL has already brought passenger trains to a standstill twice with 20 and 24-hour strikes.

The longest GDL strikes in the past lasted almost six days.

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