German rail strike most damaging ever-Deutsche Bahn

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BERLIN, Nov 10 (Reuters) Germany's 42-hour train strike on freight services that ended today was the most damaging the country has experienced and it will take weeks until traffic is back to normal, rail operator Deutsche Bahn said.

The GDL train drivers' union has said it will strike again on freight as well as passenger and long-haul services next week to press its claim for higher wages unless Deutsche Bahn presents a new offer in a months-long pay dispute.

The latest strike, which paralysed around 90 per cent of goods routes and cost the economy 50 million euros (73 million dollars) a day, according to economists, ended early on Saturday after starting at noon on Thursday. Rail strikes are rare in Germany.

''It was the worst strike on freight services we have ever seen,'' Deutsche Bahn executive Norbert Bensel was quoted telling Der Spiegel news magazine's Web site. ''It's outrageous that 1,000 train drivers caused such disruption.'' The train drivers' union, which represents some 34,000 workers, has rejected an offer from Deutsche Bahn for a new round of wage talks.

''The strike was very successful and even Deutsche Bahn says 95 percent of trains came to a standstill in eastern states and two-thirds of them in the west,'' GDL leader Manfred Schell said.

DECENT OFFER ''If we don't get a decent offer, it's absolutely certain that at the start of the week -- that means Monday or Tuesday -- we will strike on all three routes,'' he told Reuters.

The GDL, the smallest of three rail workers' unions, turned down a 4.5 per cent pay rise agreed by other unions in July. It also rejected a later Bahn offer of a 10 per cent pay rise.

The union says its members are underpaid compared with counterparts elsewhere in Europe and is seeking pay rises of up to 31 percent and an independent collective labour agreement.

The GDL began a series of short strikes in July, directing most of its initial action at local commuter services.

A poll published yesterday suggested popular support for the strike may be rising.

Among 1,255 Germans surveyed between Nov 6-8 by pollsters Electoral Research Group, 57 per cent said the industrial action was justified, up from 45 per cent at the start of October.

Some 34 per cent blamed Deutsche Bahn for the failure to find a compromise and 17 per cent said it was the GDL's fault.

Economists say that if the GDL were to strike on freight services for longer than a week, it could cost the economy up to 500 million euros a day.

REUTERS PJ YA KP2156

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