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German rail strike worsens amid calls for arbitration

German rail strike worsens amid calls for arbitration

BERLIN: A railway strike set to last an unprecedented seven days caused major disruption across Germany on its first full day on Tuesday and pressure rose on the government to intervene by pushing the two sides into arbitration.

Economists warned that the strike, which began with freight trains on Monday then spread to passenger tra­ins on Tuesday, could cost Eu­rope’s biggest economy up to 750 million euros and cut second-quarter economic growth by 0.1 percentage point.

Most of the 5.5m passengers using Deutsche Bahn each day had to find alternative transport and normally bustling rail stations from the Black Forest to the Baltic seashore were oddly empty on Tuesday. Traffic jams were widespread.

Around 620,000 tons of freight normally transported each day — about a fifth of Germany’s freight moves by rail — also put growing pressure on companies that rely on the extensive and normally efficient rail network to fill their order books.

The GDL union, which represents 20,000 train drivers, launched the walkout to back demands to negotiate on behalf of other railway workers such as train stewards for a 5 per cent pay rise and a reduction in the work week to 37 hours from 39.

Deutsche Bahn, which has 200,000 employees, has offered train drivers a 4.7pc pay rise plus a one-off payment of 1,000 euros. But it refuses to allow the GDL to negotiate wage deals for workers in the company who do not drive trains.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged the two sides to accept a mediator, a proposal that gained momentum on Tuesday.

“If the smallest of unions like the GDL can blackmail the nation, then we need to have forced mediation,” said Wolfgang Steiger from the business wing of Merkel’s conservatives.

Even the head of Germany’s DBB federation of labour, Klaus Daude­rstaedt, urged arbitration.

But GDL leader Claus Weselsky said: “We won’t sacrifice our constitutionally-protected right to strike for arbitration.”

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2015

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