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ICE at Berlin Central Station


Ina Fassbender / AFP

The German Locomotive Drivers' Union (GDL) has already declared the collective bargaining negotiations to have failed after the second round of talks with Deutsche Bahn. At the same time, it announced new warning strikes in Berlin on Friday.

There are currently no compromises to be found with the employers, said GDL boss Claus Weselsky. He announced that the union would again strike rail transport. He did not initially give exact dates. The ballot among GDL members on indefinite strikes is still ongoing, the result is expected at the end of December.

Collective bargaining had only begun two weeks ago with the first round. A week ago, the GDL paralyzed large parts of train traffic nationwide with a 20-hour warning strike. As a result of the industrial action, a good 80 percent of the long-distance journeys actually planned were cancelled. In regional transport, the effects were even more pronounced in some federal states.

Working time as a point of contention

At the heart of the collective bargaining negotiations is the GDL's demand for a reduction in the working week for shift workers from 38 to 35 hours per week with full wage compensation. DB Board Member for Human Resources Martin Seiler considers the demand to be unfeasible and sees no room for negotiation. The implementation is too expensive. In addition, fewer weekly working hours would require more employees – who are difficult to find in times of a shortage of skilled workers. GDL boss Weselsky, on the other hand, says that with a shorter weekly working time, the professions at the railway would become more attractive.

In addition to the reduction in working hours, the GDL is also demanding, among other things, 555 euros more per month as well as an inflation compensation bonus. Deutsche Bahn has so far offered an eleven percent increase over a term of 32 months as well as the required inflation compensation premium.

Accusations of the railway

Martin Seiler, Deutsche Bahn's Chief Human Resources Officer, attacked the GDL after the decision. She had rejected a three-week Christmas truce, i.e. a period without industrial action at the railways. "We have specifically proposed to the GDL that we have a Christmas truce between December 15 and January 7," Seiler said. The train drivers' union was not prepared to do so.

"The train drivers' union wants to put its head through the wall. As we all know, that doesn't go well," Seiler said of the course of the negotiations. Anyone who declares failure after the second date and initiates the ballot before the second date – you can see very clearly how much room is given for solutions. Almost nothing, really."

Mediation as a way out?

Since the beginning of the wage dispute, the GDL has been trying to keep up the pressure on the railways with many strike threats and the start of the ballot. The collapse of the negotiations is the next stage of escalation. After the first round, Weselsky had announced that the union and Deutsche Bahn had been able to agree on numerous further meetings until Christmas.

One way out of the conflict could be arbitration, i.e. negotiations with one or more mediators. Deutsche Bahn had already proposed such a moderated approach before the start of the first round of negotiations, already in anticipation of a tough wage dispute with the GDL. Weselsky refused. He also sees "no room" for conciliation.

According to the group, the collective agreements negotiated by the GDL are applied to about 10,000 employees at Deutsche Bahn. This makes it the much smaller employee representation at the state-owned company – by comparison, the railway and transport union EVG negotiated new collective agreements for around 180,000 DB employees in the spring and summer. However, because the GDL mainly represents train drivers and train attendants, it can also disrupt train traffic in Germany with strikes and warning strikes.