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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Warning strike at Deutsche Bahn: GDL is on strike for less work

As in many industries, train drivers also want to work less. But the railway refuses to negotiate a reduction in working hours.

GDL members at a strike rally in Berlin - people with green high-visibility vests and GDL flags clap

Members of the GDL union emphasized their collective bargaining demands on Thursday in Berlin Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

BERLIN taz | They didn’t want to take stock on Thursday morning, but so far the rail strike has gone well from the perspective of the German Locomotive Drivers’ Union (GDL). “We are very satisfied with the high level of employee participation in the strike,” said a spokesman for the taz. The train staff actively participated, and many dispatchers also stopped work. According to the German train 20 percent of the trains actually planned were on the road in long-distance transport. Regional transport services were also limited as part of an emergency timetable. The warning strike took place from Wednesday 10 p.m. to Thursday 6 p.m.

The fact that the GDL has already shown its muscles is remarkable. Because collective bargaining with the company has only just begun. So far, company management and the union only met last week for a round of talks. According to its own statements, the railway put wage increases of 11 percent and a tax-free bonus for inflation compensation totaling 2,850 euros on the table as an offer. But at 32 months, she demanded a fairly long tariff term. For the GDL, this was “far removed” from its own demands. She would like a wage increase of 555 euros for everyone and for a one-year term.

The GDL is actually the smaller union at Deutsche Bahn. According to the company, it represents around 10,000 employees. The rival union EVG, which belongs to the DGB, is much larger with 180,000 employees in the group. Deutsche Bahn reached an agreement with this in the summer a collective agreement. This provides for a wage increase of 410 euros in two stages with a tariff term of 25 months. A tax- and duty-free inflation compensation bonus of 2,850 euros was also agreed.

But the negotiations between Deutsche Bahn and GDL are less about wages, the crux of the matter is working hours. The shift currently works 38 hours per week. The GDL insists on a 35-hour week with full wage compensation. In doing so, it follows up on the demands of other unions. IG Metall recently entered into collective bargaining negotiations in the north-west German steel industry with a push for a 32-hour week. In fact, this would be the start of the four-day week.

Bahn doesn’t want to talk about working hours

But last week, Deutsche Bahn didn’t even want to talk to the GDL about a possible reduction in working hours. For the union this was a “clear” provocation. “I won’t let myself be accused of escalating if the other side says: ‘I’m not negotiating with you about weekly working hours and I’m not negotiating with you about collective agreements for dispatchers,’” GDL boss Claus Weselsky told the radio station WDR5.

Deutsche Bahn and the GDL actually wanted to meet on Thursday and Friday for a second round of negotiations. But the company management canceled this because of the strike. “Either you strike or you negotiate, both are not possible at the same time,” said Human Resources Director Martin Seiler, explaining the company’s move. “Consciously scheduling a strike on an agreed negotiation date is a one-off escalation in our social partnership that we do not accept.” Sooner or later the two parties will have to go back to the negotiating table. But an alternative date for the second round of negotiations has not yet been announced.

At the same time, the GDL is combative: “The employees’ dissatisfaction is great, their concerns are legitimate,” said Weselsky before the strike. “Anyone who believes that they can cynically play for time at the expense of their employees is mistaken.”

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