Three-day train drivers' strike looms in Germany

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BERLIN, Oct 20 (Reuters) German train drivers are likely to begin a three-day strike on Monday, a union leader said today, raising the stakes in their pay dispute after a series of one-day stoppages earlier this month.

Claus Weselsky, deputy chairman of the GDL train drivers' union, said the union would most probably decide tomorrow to strike for the first three days of next week, raising the pressure on rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

''The probability is very high that we'll strike on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,'' Weselsky told the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel -- which would be the longest strike in the dispute so far. ''We're ready for a long and intense strike.'' The union, which represents 34,000 train drivers, is seeking pay rises of up to 31 percent and an independent collective labour agreement, held a nine-hour strike on Thursday after a similar one-day walkout a week earlier.

Deutsche Bahn, which has resisted demands for a separate deal that would set the drivers apart from the other 195,000 railway workers, has offered a 10-percent pay rise, more than double the 4.5-percent rise other rail workers accepted in July.

Deutsche Bahn board member Karl-Friedrich Rausch said last week the effect of the strikes, limited to local trains and not affecting inter-city services, was diminishing as commuters made alternative plans and a skeleton service was maintained.

Weselsky said the union was confident an appeals court would soon overturn an injunction issued by a lower court against strikes on inter-city trains and freight trains. That, he said, would force the railways to improve their offer.

''We're not going to accomplish our aims with strikes only on local commuter rails,'' he said. ''The commuters have for the most part already paid for their monthly passes. As a result, the damage for Deutsche Bahn is limited.'' Deutsche Bahn made the drivers a fifth pay offer last week, including a one-off payment of 2,000 euros (2,800 dollar) and a rise in monthly pay of up to 10 per cent. The GDL rejected the offer.

Weselsky also said the union was paying close attention to public sentiment. A Forsa institute poll found public support for the union falling to 43 per cent from more than 50 per cent two weeks ago. Other polls showed support for the union rising.

REUTERS AE RN2030

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