German rail strike disrupts Berlin, Hamburg trains, union faces pressure
AFX News Limited: 08.09.07
FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - Striking train drivers disrupted rush-hour rail traffic in two major German cities today, as union leaders faced growing pressure to end a pay dispute.
A GDL member protests against Deutsche Bahn boss Hartmut Mehdorn - the banner reads: "For Job Losses Choose www.mehdornbahn.de"
A two-hour walkout by drivers halted many suburban commuter services in Berlin and Hamburg, with east-west and north-south routes into Berlin heavily affected, although services in outlying areas of the capital fared better.
State-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) said services were not completely paralysed, with more than half of routes in Hamburg running normally and fewer commuters travelling due to the August holidays.
DB repeated calls for the unions to enter talks, and German companies facing production outages as a result of the strike warned union bosses that they may claim damages.
The GdL train drivers' union announced this morning's strike after a court in Nuremburg blocked a four-hour stoppage by freight train drivers planned for today.
DB has dismissed as 'ridiculous' the GdL's demands for a 31 pct pay rise for drivers and their own collective agreement.
The union has refused to negotiate, saying the pay hike is needed to push its members' salaries into line with those of train drivers in other European countries.
Berlin, Hamburg Commuters Delayed as Union Strikes
Bloomberg: Aug. 9
By Jeremy van Loon and Andreas Cremer
RED Card - A Deutsche Bahn employee at Berlin train station
Travel for commuters in Berlin and Hamburg was disrupted today as the GDL train drivers' union, barred by a court from interrupting German freight and long- distance services, went on strike to reinforce its pay demands.
S-Bahn, or commuter rail, services were affected from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. local time in both cities as the union pressed its case for Deutsche Bahn AG to award raises of as much as 31 percent for 20,000 drivers and 10,000 ticketing staff. Together, the capital and the northern port city have more than 5 million inhabitants.
Commuter delays in Germany's two biggest cities are the opening salvo in a dispute between the state-owned railway and GDL that the Berlin-based DIW economic institute said might cause revenue losses of 500 million euros ($690 million) a day.
"German train drivers are at the bottom of the pay scale in Europe,'' Hans-Joachim Kernchen, a union member who organized the strikes in Berlin, said in an interview today. "Even the Italians earn a few hundred euros more.''
The industrial action comes a day after a labor court in the southern city of Nuremberg dashed the union's plan to stage the first open-ended rail strike in Germany in 15 years. It barred strikes until Sept. 30, though not on local passenger services. GDL yesterday appealed the court ruling.
Show of Strength
Berlin and Hamburg are the only two "white spots'' where the union is allowed to strike, Bernd Weiler, a spokesman for Deutsche Bahn, said in an interview. "Clearly they wanted to show us their strength.''
The two sides are talking and trying to find an arbiter they can both agree on to mediate further talks, said Weiler.
The GDL favors Heiner Geissler, a one-time chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union who has since joined anti-capitalist group Attac, N-TV television reported. Geissler acted as mediator in a pay dispute last year at Deutsche Telekom AG, Europe's biggest phone company.
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who previously mediated a Bahn dispute, would also be a suitable candidate, Kurt Bodewig, a former transport minister, said in an interview yesterday.
GDL rejected a 4.5 percent pay rise accepted by two other rail unions, Transnet and GBDA. An offer providing for "better wage prospects'' beyond the 4.5 percent proposed, along with improved career opportunities, might form the basis of a compromise, Margret Suckale, Deutsche Bahn human resources director, said yesterday.
Change of Tactic
GDL's decision to disrupt commuter services marks a change of tactic after the union initially said it would provide 24 hours notice for any action affecting passenger services. It only announced the action last night.
"It was important that we do this at short notice so that it could have the maximum impact,'' said Kernchen. "At least we've given people a chance to get to work.''
At Berlin's main train station, only two commuter trains, operated by non-unionized drivers, collected passengers between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., according to Ingo Hoffmann, a 34-year-old S- Bahn driver who has worked for Deutsche Bahn in the capital since 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell.
"This strike has been a huge success and we've been able to disrupt things more than we expected,'' he said. Hoffmann and another colleague wore white plastic tops inscribed with GDL's logo and handed out leaflets outlining their demands to the few passengers waiting on platform 13 at the Hauptbahnhof, Europe's biggest multilevel station.
Train drivers earn about 1,500 euros a month net on average, less than their counterparts in neighboring France or Switzerland, according to the union.
Many passengers were unsure why the trains were delayed and most waited patiently for one to arrive.
"I've been waiting for about 25 minutes,'' said Fabio Dentella, a 34-year-old Italian filmmaker living in Berlin trying to make his way to the western part of the city. "Can you tell me what's going on?''
The union wants "to make clear to the board of Deutsche Bahn that we expect a negotiable pay offer,'' Manfred Schell, GDL chairman, said in a statement on the union's Web site.
GDL, established in 1867, is Germany's oldest union, and has seen out the Weimar Republic as well as the Nazi and communist regimes of last century, according to Kernchen.
"Deutsche Bahn management hasn't been taking us seriously,'' he said.
German train drivers back away from pay demand, threaten weekend strike
AFX News Limited: 08.09.07
FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - A German train drivers' union threatening to bring the national rail network to a halt over a pay dispute reportedly played down its demand for a 31 pct wage hike, but warned of a possible freight train walkout over the weekend.
The demand would 'in any case never become reality' and none of the union's members expect to get it, the website of financial newspaper Handelsblatt reported GdL union chief Manfred Schell as saying in an interview with television news channel N24.
Schell suggested the union would consider reducing the pay demand made to state rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) in return for other improvements such as a reduction in working hours or better pensions.
'What finally comes out of this must be clarified at the negotiating table,' he said. 'The question is, do we take extra pay on its own, do we take a company pension scheme on its own -- that will all be taken into account proportionally.'
Schell also confirmed the union's willingness to enter into mediation by suggesting the former general secretary of Germany's conservative CDU party, Heiner Geissler, as a mediator in the dispute.
Earlier, the GdL had maintained its hardline stance by saying freight train drivers could strike at the weekend if they succeed in overturning a court's decision to block a stoppage on economic grounds.
The union said it was not ruling out a walkout sometime over the two days if it wins its appeal against the ruling by the labour court in Nuremberg.
'This would catch the employers at a crucial time, because freight traffic on Saturday and Sunday is also high,' deputy union chief Claus Weselsky said.
The court decided to block a four-hour stoppage of DB's goods trains that the GdL had planned for today, due to the damage it could cause to companies and the country's economy.
The union appealed against the ruling, but said it will delay any decision on further action until the outcome of the appeal is known on Friday.
Industrial action affecting passenger trains is not planned until Monday at the earliest, following today's two-hour walkout during the rush-hour in Berlin and Hamburg, which was not covered by the Nuremberg court ruling.
The action halted many suburban commuter services in the two cities, with east-west and north-south routes into Berlin heavily affected, although services in outlying areas of the capital fared better.
State-owned DB said services were not completely paralysed, with more than half of routes in Hamburg running normally and fewer commuters travelling due to the August holidays.
DB repeated calls for the unions to enter talks, while German companies facing production outages as a result of the strike warned union bosses that they may claim damages.
DB has dismissed as 'ridiculous' the GdL's demands for a 31 pct pay rise for drivers and their own collective agreement. It has agreed a pay deal with two other unions, Transnet and the GDBA, under which workers will get a 4.5 pct rise in wages and a one-off 600 eur bonus payment.
The GdL has refused to negotiate with DB, saying the pay hike is needed to push its members' salaries into line with those of train drivers in other European countries. DB claims drivers are paid more than 2,000 eur net per month, compared with the union's contention that drivers only get 1,500 eur.
Economic damage and wage inflation caused by the industrial action could damage prospects for a planned part-flotation of DB in 2008, experts said.
Mediators named in German rail wage dispute
dpa: August 09, 2007
Berlin - German rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the train drivers' union GDL have agreed to enter mediation to be led by two former leading conservative politicians, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports.
The sources said that Heiner Geissler and Kurt Biedenkopf, both former leading figures in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, had been accepted by both sides as mediators in the wage dispute.
Later, DB chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn confirmed that the two men had been agreed on with the GDL and said he was "very pleased that two experienced moderators and recognised personalities had declared their readiness to accept such a sophisticated task."
Geissler, 77, is a former general secretary of the CDU, while Biedenkopf had previously served as CDU premier of the eastern German state of Saxony.
The development came amid an increasingly heated war of words between DB and GDL in the train drivers' wage dispute, with the union accusing the company of unfair tactics.
Rail strike may hit Germany's car producers
Gulf Daily News: 8th August 2007
BERLIN: Germany was yesterday bracing for a rail strike that could cause chaos during the holiday season and hit the economy, with car producers warning they might be forced to scale down production.
The GDL train drivers' union on Monday balloted its members on a strike after rejecting a pay offer of 4.5 per cent, saying it wanted 31pc.
The union said the drivers would not stop work before tomorrow, giving rail operator Deutsche Bahn more time to scramble to put in place contingency plans.
An estimated 28,000 passenger trains and 5,000 cargo trains could be affected each day by the strike.
Germany's car industry - one of the mainstays of the European Union's biggest economy - warned that a strike could prevent raw materials being brought in and would prevent its products being moved around the country.
A spokesman for Volkswagen, which has 11 factories in Germany, said it was setting up a "crisis unit" to consider alternative forms of transport and warned it could lose millions of dollars if the strike bit.
Porsche said production of its popular Cayenne model might have to be halted at its site in the eastern city of Leipzig if the strike takes hold because parts for the model are imported by rail from a Volkswagen factory in Slovakia.
"We estimate that production at the Leipzig site might have to be stopped from Wednesday next week," a Porsche spokesman said.
After being hit by a series of strikes, Deutsche Bahn reached agreement last month with the Transnet and GDBA rail workers' unions under which employees will receive a 4.5-percent salary hike spread over 19 months from January 2008 as well as a bonus of $829. GDL however broke ranks with the two other unions.