Status: 20.11.2023, 21:08 PM
By: Amy Walker
Deutsche Bahn and GDL have negotiated only once. This was followed by a warning strike and a ballot for indefinite strikes. An unprecedented escalation.
Berlin – It is not yet clear whether the German Train Drivers' Union (GDL) will go on strike again. What is already clear, however, is that the collective bargaining negotiations with Deutsche Bahn are quite poisoned after just one appointment. Although the company had already offered an eleven percent wage increase at the start, the train drivers went on a 20-hour nationwide strike. And then announced a ballot for indefinite strikes. Deutsche Bahn criticised the behaviour as "strange and irrational".
There are probably two main reasons why the situation could get out of hand so quickly. On the one hand, Deutsche Bahn refuses to negotiate on the issue of reducing working hours. And on the other hand, these negotiations are about the very existence of the GDL.
GDL demands less working hours – Deutsche Bahn considers this impossible
In addition to a wage increase of 555 euros per month and an inflation bonus of 3000 euros, the GDL is demanding a reduction in weekly working hours from 38 to 35 hours for shift workers with full pay. From the point of view of GDL boss Claus Weselsky, this is the only way to improve the attractiveness of these professions. At the weekend, the union boss argued that working hours would also be reduced "moderately and in steps" if a deal was reached.
But in its first offer, Deutsche Bahn described the reduction in working hours as the "wrong way". There is a lack of staff for this – which was also confirmed by an independent study by the German Economic Institute (IW) in Cologne. According to the IW, there is no other profession in the railway sector where the skills gap is as large as that of train drivers.
With the rejection of the GDL's central demand, however, the union has already pulled the emergency brake and called the strike. In doing so, it is signalling that no rapprochement on this issue is not an option for us. And the union is going even further by now obtaining legal certainty for indefinite strikes with a ballot. At the same time, Weselsky emphasizes: "We have never gone on strike indefinitely."
Claus Weselsky, head of GDL, at the start of the collective bargaining negotiations. © Fabian Sommer/dpa
So the GDL boss probably hopes that the threat of indefinite strikes alone could force the employer to move more. This has also worked in the past: just last year, when the pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) negotiated with the Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings, a ballot was also held. At that time, 97.7 percent voted for indefinite strikes – but they never had to be called. In the end, VC and Eurowings were able to come to an agreement.
Weselsky and the GDL are fighting for their raison d'être
But Weselsky is not only concerned with that. What certainly also influences his decisions is the so-called Collective Bargaining Unity Act. It stipulates that in a company with several trade unions, only the collective agreement of the employee representation with the largest number of members is implemented. In the case of the approximately 300 Deutsche Bahn companies, this is usually the EVG, which already negotiated with Deutsche Bahn in the spring. Only 18 railway companies currently use GDL contracts.
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However, from the point of view of the train drivers' union, there is no reliable procedure for determining the number of members in the respective companies. For this reason, it is taking legal action against the Group's determinations in several proceedings, in some cases already in the last instance before the Federal Labour Court. The GDL is therefore striving to expand its sphere of influence over the railways. In this round of collective bargaining, it also wants to negotiate on behalf of the employees of the infrastructure division. The railway refuses. So far, the GDL does not have its own collective bargaining agreements there.
For Weselsky, it is also about a hard power struggle between the unions, the GDL has to fight for its raison d'être. If they negotiate hard and get a good offer, it strengthens their base and could also attract new members – which would also ensure the union's continued existence in the future.
With material from dpa