German train drivers threaten strike from Tuesday

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BERLIN, Oct 7 (Reuters) Germany's train drivers' union threatened today stage strikes with little warning from as soon as after they halted much of the country's rail traffic on Friday.

The GDL union held a three-hour strike on Friday to press its demand for a pay rise of up to 31 percent and has given rail operator Deutsche Bahn a deadline of noon on Tuesday to put forward a new offer.

''If Bahn does not make us an offer by then, we will take industrial action again,'' GDL chief Manfred Schell told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. ''We are considering announcing the strikes with very little notice.'' The union announced Friday's strike on Monday. Rail strikes are extremely rare in Germany.

Deutsche Bahn prepared for Friday's strike action by hiring replacement drivers. The rail operator said it managed to keep half Germany's regional and local trains running. GDL disputed this figure, saying the real number was closer to 10 per cent.

Deutsche Bahn recently offered to pay the drivers for an extra two hours' work per week -- which it said would result in bottom-line salary increases of up to 10 percent. But GDL has said the new offer just means more work for the same pay.

''We will not let ourselves be blackmailed or bullied,'' Deutsche Bahn managing board member Margret Suckale told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. ''Every driver who wants to can earn 10 percent more. That is fair.'' Deutsche Bahn, which the government wants to partially privatise by 2009, has been locked in a months-long wage dispute with GDL, which says Germany's train drivers are underpaid compared with their counterparts elsewhere in Europe.

REUTERS PDT VC2132

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