The most recent collective bargaining dispute at the railway was only a few months ago, and the next one is already imminent. This time the company is arguing with the train drivers’ union GDL.
Many passengers will still remember: It was just three months ago that Deutsche Bahn and the Railway and Transport Union (EVG) agreed on a collective bargaining compromise after tough weeks of negotiations and arbitration.
During this time, the EVG paralyzed rail traffic in Germany twice with a warning strike. Now customers have to worry again about whether their trains are running. The next collective bargaining dispute at the railway begins this Thursday, this time with the German Locomotive Drivers’ Union (GDL) under its boss Claus Weselsky. The GDL is the smaller railway union. But that doesn’t make the negotiations any easier.
Will there be a threat of strikes and standstill again soon?
Yes, passengers have to be prepared for the GDL to quickly go into industrial action. Weselsky has already announced that he does not want to spend much time on warning strikes, for which there are strict guidelines. He is relying on a quick strike vote among union members in order to be able to carry out indefinite strikes. The GDL has not yet announced any specific actions. But Weselsky has always emphasized that the holidays over Christmas are not taboo for labor disputes.
The GDL has significantly fewer members than the EVG. But traditionally she primarily represents the train drivers and train crew. If they go on strike, trains won’t run. In previous collective bargaining rounds, the union has often proven that it can completely paralyze rail traffic nationwide, even over a longer period of time.
What is being argued about?
The union is demanding 555 euros more per month as well as an inflation compensation bonus of 3,000 euros – less a portion of this tax- and duty-free one-off payment that has already been paid. The term should be twelve months. The sticking point in the negotiations is, above all, the demand to reduce the working hours for shift workers from 38 to 35 hours with full wage compensation. According to Weselsky’s own statements, he wants to increase the attractiveness of the profession in view of the widespread shortage of skilled workers.
“We have too few train drivers, too few train attendants, now too few dispatchers, too few workshop employees,” the GDL boss told the German Press Agency a few weeks ago. This is not due to demographic change. “But it’s the unattractiveness of the jobs, the activities that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in the railway system.”
The railway has already rejected the GDL demands as “unfulfillable”. “If we were to fully implement this, we would have to hire around 10,000 additional employees in shift work,” said Human Resources Director Martin Seiler recently in Berlin.
Are there any other sticking points?
Yes. As with the GDL’s previous collective bargaining rounds, this conflict is characterized by the debate about the so-called Unified Collective Bargaining Act. It stipulates that in a company with several unions, only the collective agreement of the employee representation with the larger membership is implemented. For the approximately 300 Deutsche Bahn companies, this is usually the EVG.
The GDL contracts are currently used in only 18 railway companies. But from the perspective of the train drivers’ union, there is no secure procedure for determining the number of members in the respective companies. She is therefore suing in several cases against the company’s determinations, some of which have already been filed in the final instance before the Federal Labor Court.
The GDL is therefore trying to expand its sphere of influence on the railways. In this round of collective bargaining, she also wants to negotiate for employees in the infrastructure division. The railway rejects this. So far, the GDL does not have its own collective agreements there.
What is the new GDL cooperative all about?
Also with a view to the Unified Collective Bargaining Act, the union announced in the summer that it wanted to set up its own temporary agency in the form of a cooperative. According to Weselsky, this has already happened. Recruitment interviews are currently underway, he recently emphasized. The employees of this company could now be loaned out to the railway at GDL conditions. In this way, the GDL collective agreements could also be applied in companies where the EVG actually has a majority among the employees.
Because the cooperative does not negotiate its collective agreements with the railway, but with the GDL. A corresponding company collective agreement has already been agreed, said Weselsky. “The cooperative is the solution to this outrageousness,” Weselsky told the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” with a view to the Unified Collective Bargaining Act.