German rail union says to strike later in week

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BERLIN, Oct 22 (Reuters) The German train drivers' union today said it will strike on Thursday and Friday, escalating its wage dispute with national rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

The strikes will affect regional trains and urban commuter services from 2 am (0530 IST) on Thursday until 8 am (1130 IST) on Friday, the GDL union said. Long-distance intercity trains and freight trains will not be affected.

A series of one-day strikes has caused millions of commuters delays this month as the union pushes for pay rises of up to 31 per cent and an independent collective labour agreement for its 34,000 train drivers.

''Deutsche Bahn has not offered the German train drivers' union a better wage deal, therefore, GDL has called on its members ... to strike,'' the union said in a statement today.

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

''Our members stand behind our pay demands ... overall public opinion is positive towards our strike,'' Claus Weselsky, GDL deputy head, told a televised news conference.

While some opinion polls show public support rising, others show them falling.

Economists say if the GDL union gets its own contract, it could fragment Germany's unions and push up labour costs by encouraging other sections to press for separate wage deals.

German rail strikes are rare but millions of passengers have been delayed by stoppages over the last three months even though the strikes are limited to local transport.

The GDL has been barred from staging strikes on long-distance and freight service. A court in Chemnitz will review the ban on November 2.

Deutsche Bahn said in a statement that the GDL should call off further strikes until the Chemnitz court comes to a decision on the ban.

''Otherwise the GDL loses all that remains of its credibility,'' Deutsche Bahn said.

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.

Reuters AE DB2039

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