German rail strike ends but more walkouts loom

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BERLIN, Nov 17 (Reuters) German train drivers returned to work early today, ending the country's biggest rail strike, but the misery is far from over for commuters as the union has threatened more action next week.

The 62-hour strike over pay hit both freight and commuter services and raised fears about the impact on Europe's biggest economy.

Some companies, including car maker Audi, were forced to cancel shifts due to parts shortages and shipping containers piled up in Hamburg, Germany's largest port.

The wage dispute between the GDL train drivers' union and rail operator Deutsche Bahn has dragged on since March.

The two sides are not talking and there is little sign that either side is about to budge.

GDL deputy head Claus Weselsky yesterday threatened further strikes next week if Deutsche Bahn failed to come up with a new offer and talk is rife the dispute could run over Christmas.

Deutsche Bahn has said it will make no new offer.

Passenger trains will run on schedule again today after the strike ended at 0630 IST, Deutsche Bahn said, but the company warned it would take some time to catch up with the backlog of goods trains left standing on the tracks.

The walkouts, which started on freight routes on Wednesday and spread to passenger trains on Thursday, brought 70 to 75 per cent of trains in eastern Germany to a standstill but only 20 to 50 per cent of trains in the western part of the country.

GDL argues its 34,000 workers are underpaid compared to counterparts elsewhere in Europe and wants a separate pay contract from other rail workers plus a pay rise of up to 31 percent.

Commentators say the sour, at times hostile, relationship between bushy-eyebrowed GDL head Manfred Schell and Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn makes a deal even more difficult.

Politicians have urged both sides to go back to the negotiating table but pressure is growing on Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a more active role to resolve the dispute.

Reuters RC VP0700

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