Berlin - The next few weeks could be challenging for rail passengers. The 37,000-member-strong German Train Drivers' Union (GDL) is pushing ahead with its strike plans after negotiations with Deutsche Bahn reached a standstill.
Voting by union members on industrial action ends today (Monday). On Tuesday, GDL boss Claus Weselsky will announce the results but he has already said he expects more than 90 per cent of the members to vote in favour of a strike.
It is still unclear when the strike might take place. Deutsche Bahn appealed to union representatives to return to the bargaining table. German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) urged both sides to be prudent.
"Nobody really needs this strike right now," said Martin Seiler, HR director at the state-owned rail operator. "At the end of the day, this is an attack on the whole country." He said that after the relaxation of corona restrictions, many people were only now starting to travel again. Seiler told Bild am Sonntag that "in terms of content, there is zero point zero reason to strike".
Scheuer told the same paper that "especially now we need to work together". He said that corona had hit the railways particularly hard.
DB wants to mimic airport worker deal
However, the two sides are at loggerheads in the latest round of collective bargaining - and accuse each other of spreading untruths.
GDL is demanding a 3.2 per cent pay increase - as was recently awarded to public sector workers - as well as a significant corona bonus for the current year. It would be the first train strike since December 2018, when the other rail union - the Railway and Transport Union (EVG) - called on its members to take industrial action. GDL members last striked in 2014 and 2015 with locomotive drivers refusing to work in eight waves of increasing intensity.
Deutsche Bahn, however, wants to mimic the "emergency wage deal" agreed with airport workers, which would see a pay rise of 3.2 per cent over a longer period. The deal would see a boost in pension benefits and the exclusion of dismissals for operational reasons.
Last year, rival rail union EVG signed a collective agreement which saw no pay increase for 2021, but a 1.5 per cent raise at the beginning of 2022.
Claus Weselsky expects "above 90 per cent" of union members to vote infavour of industrial action, he told the Welt am Sonntag. Asked about the possible duration of a strike, Weselsky replied: "I'm not aware of any limit to how long a strike could last."
According to GDL, the union represents a good 80 per cent of the train drivers and 40 per cent of train attendants.