German train drivers could strike again this week

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BERLIN, Nov 5 (Reuters) Germany's GDL train drivers' union said on Sunday it wanted an improved wage offer from rail operator Deutsche Bahn [DBN.UL] or it would stage strikes on freight services as early as tomorrow.

A German court on Friday gave the GDL permission to extend stoppages to long-haul and freight routes, overturning a prior ruling and setting the stage for more crippling walkouts.

GDL deputy leader Claus Weselsky told yesterday's Bild am Sonntag newspaper union leaders would meet tomorrow or Wednesday to gauge the situation and strikes on goods services could begin immediately thereafter.

''For the time being we want to spare customers on local services, who have been seriously affected recently,'' he said.

The head of the union, Manfred Schell, was quoted as saying later on Sunday by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the GDL would not stage any more strikes this week while it reassessed its strategy in light of the court's decision.

However, the paper later said the union had withdrawn the Schell quote saying there would be no more strikes this week despite having earlier authorised the interview's publication.

The GDL, which represents some 34,000 drivers, says its workers are underpaid compared with counterparts elsewhere in Europe and is seeking pay rises of up to 31 per cent and an independent collective labour agreement.

It has rejected a deal for a 4.5 per cent wage hike struck between Deutsche Bahn and two larger rail unions and refused a separate offer which Bahn says amounts to a 10 per cent wage hike and a one-off payment of 2,000 euros (2,896 dollars).

The drivers have staged sporadic walkouts for months which have caused delays and disruption for millions of passengers.

The Sueddeutsche quoted Schell as saying that he thought Deutsche Bahn officials would be reluctant to allow strikes on freight and long-distance routes and predicted that the dispute would not last much longer.

If Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated a willingness to mediate, the union would accept it, he said.

Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee has warned that further strikes could have a disastrous impact on Europe's largest economy and industry groups urged Deutsche Bahn and the GDL to quickly restart talks to find a compromise.

August Ortmeyer, a transport expert at the DIHK chambers of industry and commerce, told NDR it would be difficult for firms to shift transport of goods to road routes in the event of a strike as there was little reserve capacity.

Deutsche Bahn, a transport and logistics giant with interests across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, is Germany's largest employer. It transported 1.85 billion passengers last year and brought in revenues of 30 billion euros.

REUTERS PBB AS0720

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