Passengers will have to prepare for strikes and thus significant restrictions on rail traffic again in the weeks and months from November - possibly even at Christmas. The reason is the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations between the railway and the German Locomotive Drivers' Union (GDL). GDL boss Claus Weselsky doesn't want to spend much time on warning strikes and instead wants the members to vote quickly on indefinite strikes. “Why should I just create a small fanfare in some form when I know that it will have no effect on the other side?” Weselsky told the German Press Agency.
“Therefore, there is a certain probability that we will either not have a warning strike or only have one or two.” In order to have an effect, longer industrial action measures are needed, for which the GDL must secure itself legally. A strike vote and thus the will of the members would have to be put “a little bit” ahead of the processes. The GDL is currently discussing whether a strike vote is possible before the first negotiation date on November 9th.
Weselsky does not rule out the Christmas holidays for a labor dispute. The railway also proposed a “Christmas truce” to the GDL with the negotiation dates, said Weselsky. "We rejected that because we don't know the development and because we don't know how much negotiations we will have to do until then."
The uncertainty on the rails continues for passengers. The months-long collective bargaining dispute between the rival union EVG and Deutsche Bahn was only a few months ago. The railway and transport union has already paralyzed rail traffic nationwide twice this year with warning strikes. An agreement was only reached at the end of August after a two-week arbitration process. The result, among other things, was 410 euros more per month for employees and an inflation compensation bonus of 2,850 euros net.
Now it's the smaller GDL's turn. Among other things, she demands at least 555 euros more per month as well as the inflation compensation bonus. The crux of the negotiations is likely to be the demand for a reduction in weekly working hours from 38 to 35 hours for shift workers without a proportional reduction in wages.
“We have too few train drivers, too few train attendants, now too few dispatchers, too few workshop employees,” said the GDL boss. This is not due to demographic change. “But it is the unattractiveness of the professions, the activities that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in the railway system,” emphasized Weselsky. Reducing working hours is therefore “a step towards increasing the attractiveness of the professions and showing that there is also recognition in society”.
It is not foreseeable that the railway will simply swallow this toad. “I notice in the other collective bargaining negotiations with the competitive railways that the employers are having a very difficult time agreeing to the reduction in working hours and even tackling the issue,” said Weselsky. "It's just that the arguments are worn out." The GDL has been negotiating with the railway company Transdev and some other rail competitors for several months now.
Is the reduction in working hours more important for the GDL than the wage demands? “In other collective bargaining rounds I would have given the answer: Yes, that is the most important thing,” said Weselsky. "Today I wouldn't allow myself to do that because we see that the wage increase is absolutely necessary in order to compensate for the third year of inflation." What is not achieved in the tariffs "disenfranchises our members, makes them a little poorer and restricts them, either in consumption or in the families' overall standard of living."
Another topic will come up again in the current collective bargaining round: the controversial Unified Collective Bargaining Act. The law stipulates that in a company with two competing unions, only the collective agreement of the employee representative body with the largest number of members applies. In the hundreds of Deutsche Bahn companies, this is usually the EVG. But in dozens of subsidiaries the question is highly controversial between everyone involved. According to Bahn, the GDL collective agreements are currently only used in 18 companies.
The group recently announced that negotiations would be held with GDL in the fall for around 10,000 employees. “That’s just a lie,” Weselsky said. "We represent 40,000 members in all railway companies, and the largest proportion of our members are with Deutsche Bahn AG."
According to Weselsky, the method of determining the number of members in individual companies has been disputed in court for more than two years. “We have now only just landed in the second instance with a case at the Federal Labor Court, and no one can tell you when you will actually get justice in the sense of a civilized counting procedure,” he said. “We don’t have a counting process, we don’t have a methodology for the whole process.” The question is sensitive because the railway has no right to know whether and which union an employee belongs to.
As with the previous round of negotiations, the GDL wants to negotiate this time for new professional groups for which there are currently no GDL collective agreements. “Now the step comes from the railway companies into the infrastructure,” said Weselsky. "This is a subsequent step. We currently do not have a collective agreement in the infrastructure. But that is what we are striving for."
For the 64-year-old, who has been the face of the GDL as federal chairman for around 15 years, it is the last collective bargaining dispute of his career. He wants to step down in September next year and hand the reins over to his current deputy, Mario Reiß.