German railway operator proposes mediator to resolve train strike

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN, May 6 (Reuters) - German rail operator Deutsche Bahn on Wednesday suggested appointing an independent mediator to help resolve a dispute with the GDL train drivers' union and stop a strike causing nationwide disruption.

Deutsche Bahn Chief Executive Ruediger Grube said he sent a letter earlier in the day to the GDL union proposing Matthias Platzeck, a former chairman of the Social Democrat party and former Brandenburg state premier, to mediate.

"We want to get back to the negotiating table, preferably right away today or by this evening," Grube said.

But GDL leader Claus Weselsky said he had not yet received any letter and told a rally in Cologne that his union would keep striking until Sunday morning as planned.

"We'll take our time and examine the offer if it ever arrives," he said. "No one should assume that a PR gag like this from the Bahn chief executive will end this strike."

The GDL union, which represents 20,000 train drivers, launched the walkout to back demands to negotiate on behalf of other railway workers such as train stewards for a 5 percent pay rise and a reduction in the work week to 37 hours from 39.

Deutsche Bahn, which has 200,000 employees, has offered its drivers a 4.7 percent pay rise plus a one-off payment of 1,000 euros ($1,123.30). But it refuses to let the GDL negotiate wage deals for workers in the company who do not drive trains.

In what will be the longest strike in Deutsche Bahn's 21-year history, the train drivers walked off the job on Monday.

About 5.5 million passengers use the country's normally efficient train network each day and one-fifth of the country's freight, some 620,000 tonnes, is moved daily by rail.

The eight strikes so far in the 10-month long dispute has already cost the country's dominant rail company some 220 million euros.

A leading steel industry official, Hans-Joachim Welsch, told German radio that the strike could cause lasting damage to the sector, which transports 200,000 tonnes per day by rail, if steel plants could not get supplies to keep furnaces burning.

On the other hand, Germany's number two airline Air Berlin said on Wednesday it was getting an extra 200,000 euros per day in turnover thanks to the strike. Germany's leading airline Lufthansa said demand was also up strongly. ($1 = 0.8902 euros) (Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum and Stephen Brown; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.