(Corrects, in paragraph 8, the number of local trains that are running to around 40%, not 20%-30%, after Deutsche Bahn clarification)
BERLIN -A dispute between German rail operator Deutsche Bahn and train drivers’ union GDL that has escalated to a nationwide strike will not end soon as the union’s demands go beyond wage increases, the government rail commissioner said on Thursday.
The strike, which started with freight trains on Tuesday evening and is due to end on Friday early morning, has brought thousands of trains to a standstill, severely disrupting passenger and cargo traffic across the country.
“I am afraid it will be difficult to defuse it in the short term,” said Enak Ferlemann, who oversees Germany’s rail sector, including fully state-owned Deutsche Bahn.
Ferlemann said reforming the collective bargaining law and developing the railway system were the real issues behind the strike.
“These are political goals for which one cannot actually strike,” Ferlemann told a news conference, adding that pressing on these issues should not be at the expense of travellers.
“Don’t take the passengers hostage,” he said.
GDL was not immediately available to comment on Ferlemann’s remarks.
Around 40% of local and a quarter of long-distance trains were still operational on Thursday, Deutsche Bahn said.
Train drivers’ union GDL announced the strike after wage talks with management collapsed. The union is demanding a wage increase of around 3.2% and a one-time coronavirus allowance of 600 euros ($700).
Deutsche Bahn said its position on pay was “quite close” to the union’s, urging it to return to the negotiation table.
“We appeal to the GDL to stop the strikes and return to a responsible solution,” Deutsche Bahn spokesman Achim Stauss said on Thursday.
Rivalry between GDL and the larger EVG train workers union, which has already reached an agreement with Deutsche Bahn management last year, made negotiations for GDL more difficult, EVG head Klaus-Dieter Hommel said.
“It’s about the existence of the GDL,” Hommel told Deutschlandfunk radio on Thursday, adding it would renegotiate the deal it had with Deutsche Bahn if GDL got a better offer.