German rail union calls strikes for Tomorrow

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BERLIN, Oct 17 (Reuters) Germany's train drivers' union said it would stage a fresh strike tomorrow after it rejected the latest pay offer from rail operator Deutsche Bahn [DBN.UL].

''The train drivers will therefore ... carry out more strikes on Thursday,'' Claus Weselsky, deputy head of the GDL union said at a televised news conference today.

Drivers of regional and local trains would stop work across the country from 0530 IST and the strike would end at 1430 IST Weselsky said.

GDL has demanded a pay rise of up to 31 per cent and rejected a deal in July giving other rail workers a 4.5 per cent increase.

It argues that its members are poorly paid in comparison to their counterparts in other parts of Europe.

The union is demanding a separate wage contract to set train drivers apart from other rail staff, but Deutsche Bahn wants to keep its employees under the aegis of a sector-wide agreement.

If GDL got its own contract, economists say it could fragment Germany's unions and ratchet up labour costs by encouraging other sections of the workforce to use their own leverage on employers to press for separate wage deals.

''We know that if GDL get its way, unions for other job groups will appear at Deutsche Bahn, and I can imagine at least 10 will line up by 2009 at the latest,'' Margret Suckale, Deutsche Bahn's head of personnel, told reporters in Berlin.

The 34,000-member GDL union has already staged a series of walkouts in recent months affecting millions of travellers and has filed an appeal in a regional court against a ban on strikes affecting long-distance and freight services.

Deutsche Bahn made the train drivers a fifth wage offer on Monday, which includes a one-off payment of 2,000 euros (2,848 dollars) plus an increase in monthly wages of up to 10 per cent.

''Think about the commuters tomorrow who won't be able to get to work on time,'' Suckale said. ''Their sympathy will be tested with this offer of 2,000 euros and 10 per cent on the table.'' According to Deutsche Bahn's latest offer, train drivers would qualify for a further 5 per cent increase on top of the 4.5 per cent if they agreed to work two extra hours per week.

Rail strikes are extremely rare in Germany but millions of passengers have been stranded by stoppages over the last three months, costing the economy millions of euros.

Deutsche Bahn, which the government wants to partly privatise by 2009, is Europe's largest rail and transport firm.

It serves more than 5 million passengers daily on 28,000 trains.

The company said it would be able to operate around 60 percent of its normal timetable on Thursday.

REUTERS RSA RN2149

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