German railway takes legal action against striking train drivers

German railway takes legal action against striking train drivers :German state-owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn will take legal action against a train drivers’ union staging a four-day strike from Thursday to Monday which has paralysed passenger and freight transport across the country.

Deutsche Bahn filed an injunction with a Frankfurt labour court on Thursday after the GDL drivers’ union rejected an offer of mediation and began what would be the longest strike in the German railway’s post-war history.

“We have decided with a heavy heart to take legal action against this strike,” said DB board member Ulrich Weber. The court was scheduled to consider the injunction at 4.30 pm (1530 GMT) on Thursday.

Economists estimate a train strike of more than three days could cost the economy up to 100 million euros ($126 million) a day if assembly lines have to halt because of supply shortages. Nearly one-fifth of German freight travels by rail.

Strikes in Germany are relatively rare, with employers and larger unions usually able to resolve their differences at the negotiating table. GDL already held a 60-hour strike on a school holiday weekend last month, stranding millions of passengers.

Most freight trains ground to a halt late on Wednesday and passenger and commuter trains stopped before dawn on Thursday. The strike will stop many people from attending celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Sunday.

“I have the impression that all of Germany is being taken hostage,” said commuter Theresa Proyer in Cologne, stranded by the sixth stoppage by the small GDL union in just two months.

The train drivers have been pilloried in the media, with Die Welt newspaper complaining about a “stupid strike” on its front page and top-selling Bild calling it a “monster strike”.

Even Chancellor Angela Merkel, who rarely gets involved in industrial disputes, appealed to the train drivers’ “sense of responsibility” on Wednesday and urged mediation.

SMALL UNION, BIG IMPACT

But not everyone was complaining: car-hire company Sixt took out a full-page ad with a photo of the moustachioed union leader Claus Weselsky and the slogan: “Our employee of the month.”

Weselsky told German TV on Thursday it was “a cheek to offer mediation” when DB had refused to discuss his concrete demands.

Representing just 20,000 of DB’s 196,000 workers, the GDL accuses the company of denying it the right to negotiate on behalf of 17,000 train stewards. It wants a 5 percent pay rise for drivers and the working week reduced to 37 hours from 39.

Merkel’s government is working on a new law to limit the power of smaller unions like the GDL.

The industries most affected by rail freight disruptions are carmakers, chemicals companies and steel producers. Car makers have tried to redirect some of their supplies. Volkswagen , BMW and Audi say their goal is to prevent any stoppages in production.

Deutsche Bahn, which carries 5.5 million passengers and more than 620,000 tonnes of freight a day, promised to maintain about half of freight traffic and a third of passenger services. (Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Fußballfans am Bahnhof

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