More rail strikes loom in Germany after pay talks break down

A man stands on a platform at Ostbahnhof Station in Berlin on Oct 19, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A man stands on a platform at Ostbahnhof Station in Berlin on Oct 19, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (Reuters) - German rail operator Deutsche Bahn said on Monday talks with the GDL train drivers' union on pay and negotiation rights had broken down, raising the prospect of further strikes that could harm Europe's biggest economy.

Ulrich Weber, head of personnel at Deutsche Bahn, called GDL an "unreliable negotiating partner" after the union surprisingly ended talks on Sunday, just when an agreement had appeared within reach.

GDL was due to make a statement later in the day. It could announce a nearly four-day strike, according to German newspaper Bild, escalating the dispute further.

The BDI industry association has warned that the strikes are not just hurting companies but the entire German economy. A succession of strikes has left companies, politicians and travellers pushing for measures to curb the power of smaller unions.

GDL is seeking a 5 per cent pay rise for 20,000 drivers and a shortening of the working week to 37 hours from 39. Another central issue in the dispute is its demand to set wage deals for around 17,000 train guards and other personnel.

Deutsche Bahn, which says it will negotiate only with the larger EVG union for those categories of employees, has made several pay offers which GDL has rejected.

In mid-October the union called a 50-hour strike over a weekend, halting two thirds of long-distance trains and leaving millions stranded at the beginning of holidays.

That stoppage was followed by a two-day strike of pilots at German airline Lufthansa, causing flight disruptions for hundreds of thousands of travellers.