Train strike spreads to German passenger routes, millions delayed

Train strike spreads to German passenger routes, millions delayed

BERLIN - Reuters
Train strike spreads to German passenger routes, millions delayed

Passengers walk along a platform in the main train station after leaving one of the few running trains as German train drivers went on a strike for an unlimited period in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, May 20, 2015. AP Photo

Millions of commuters faced long delays in Germany on May 20 after train drivers walked off the job to demand higher pay and negotiating rights.

Two in three long-distance trains and hundreds of commuter services were cancelled after the small but powerful GDL union extended its open-ended strike to passenger routes. Freight trains were halted on May 19.

The walkout is the ninth in 10 months to hit rail operator Deutsche Bahn and industry has warned that the strike could cost Europe’s biggest economy up to 100 million euros ($110 million) a day, hurting its image as an industrial and logistics hub.

The scope of the action has alarmed politicians, businesses and other unions in a country known for relatively harmonious labor relations. It drew sharp criticism from both the BDA employers association and the DGB union umbrella organization.

“To put it mildly, this is going too far,” DGB head Reiner Hoffmann told the Tagesspiegel newspaper, questioning the readiness of GDL chief Claus Weselsky to find a compromise deal.

The BDA said the damage caused to the economy overall was “completely disproportionate” with the steel, engineering and car sectors among those hardest hit because of their reliance on freight services.

“The GDL is taking Deutsche Bahn customers hostage for egoistical reasons to get more power,” said BDA president Ingo Kramer. GDL, a member of the DGB, has been trying to poach members from other unions and strengthen its hand.

The GDL union has not said when the stoppage will end, just that it will be longer than the last strike which lasted nearly a week and was the longest in Deutsche Bahn’s 21-year history.

Analysts say a 10-day strike could shave 0.1 of a percentage point off gross domestic product growth in the second quarter.

The GDL union, with 20,000 members, wants a 5 percent pay rise for its members, a shorter working week and the right to represent other workers in the company, such as train stewards.

Deutsche Bahn, with 200,000 employees, has offered a 4.7 percent pay rise plus a one-off payment of 1,000 euros, but it has refused to let the GDL negotiate for other workers.

Politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, have urged the two parties to enter mediation.