Source AP ©

Germany's train drivers' union seeks large pay increases and sets strikes this week

A leading German industry group annnounced Tuesday that a solution to a dispute over train drivers' pay must be found quickly, because the strikes set to begin later this week can seriously damage the economy.

A leading German industry group appealed Tuesday for a quick solution to a bitter dispute over train drivers' pay, warning that strikes set to start later this week could badly damage the economy.

And the country's transport minister appealed to both Deutsche Bahn AG, the state-owned railway, and GDL, the train drivers' union, to return to talks - but said the government does plan to intervene directly.

GDL is seeking large pay increases and a separate wage agreement for train drivers. It has rejected a 4.5 percent raise that Deutsche Bahn agreed to last month in talks with two other unions that represent a broad range of employees.

GDL members have voted to walk out, and union leaders say they will start with a four-hour strike against freight trains on Thursday, which may also cause delays to passenger services.

Germany's main industry lobby group, the Federation of German Industry, said many companies in Europe's biggest economy rely on "trouble-free" transport of freight by rail.

"Brief disruption on the rails can be absorbed by companies, but longer transport stoppages could interfere with production at many companies," said the group's head, Juergen Thumann.

"In the interest of our economy and its workers, a quick solution is needed," Thumann added in a statement. "Otherwise, immense damage - in the millions (of euros) every day - would be caused."

GDL chairman Manfred Schell told N24 television Tuesday that his union would not object to an independent "moderator" being brought in to calm the dispute - a signal that Deutsche Bahn welcomed. However, it was unclear who might mediate.

Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said he spoke to both sides, appealing to them "to return to the negotiating table and be aware of their high responsibility for railway customers and the economy as a whole."

"No solution is to be expected by clinging on to extreme positions," he said. However, he added that the government "does not intend to become involved directly in the conflict."

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