After a series of highly damaging strikes and five weeks of arduous negotiations, national railway firm Deutsche Bahn and train driver union GDL reached agreement on Tuesday night on a new collective wage package.
The deal should hopefully end the numerous strikes, nine since 2014, that have wrecked the company's reputation and cost the German economy an estimated €500 million and Deutsche Bahn itself €300 million.
The strikes affected cargo transport, hitting Germany’s key industries, such as car and machinery manufacturing. Passenger traffic suffered too as several trains were cancelled and delayed across the country.
“Thank God our customers again have planning certainty and can rely on Deutsche Bahn,” Ulrich Weber, Deutsche Bahn executive board member responsible for human resources, told reporters.
“We need this at a time when we are fighting for customers,” Mr. Weber said at a joint press conference with union chairman Claus Weselsky.
As is common in Germany, the talks were also moderated by two politicians representing each side. In this instance, the former governor of the state of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, a Social Democrat, mediated the talks on behalf of Deutsche Bahn, and Bodo Ramelow, the governor of the state of Thuringia, a member of the Left Party, moderated on behalf of train driver union GDL.
State-owned Deutsche Bahn lost customers and revenue due to the strikes at a time it was already suffering from increased competition from long-distance bus operators and low cost domestic airlines. The company is struggling to meet its financial targets this year.
The new wage deal and the removal of the threat of more strikes will come as a relief to the Deutsche Bahn chief executive Rüdiger Grube, who last week proposed a set of reorganization measures, including cutting senior management posts.
Tuesday’s accord, which comprises 16 separate agreements, will give Deutsche Bahn employees represented by the union a wage increase of 5.1 percent in total by May 2016, will add 300 new train drivers to the company to reduce overtime hours, and a ban on new strikes until September 2016, when the new wage deal will expire.
Both parties have also agreed that new mediators could be called upon until 2020 to resolve any potential new conflicts in the future.
The year-long conflict between Deutsche Bahn and train driver union GDL centered on the union’s wish to negotiate separate wage deals for its 34,000 members, in addition to agreements of rival train personnel union EVG, which has 204,000 members. Deutsche Bahn had refused to allow different wage deals for the same group of employees.
Under the terms of Tuesday’s accord, which comprises 16 separate agreements, the train drivers union GDL will have the right to negotiate its own wage agreements.
The German parliament in May accepted a new law proposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to limit the power of small unions, such as GDL, and only allow one union the right to negotiate for the rights of workers within a company.
GDL union’s Mr. Weselsky, however, said: “Deutsche Bahn and GDL have agreed that if at some point a uniform collective wage law came into force, it would not apply to our wage agreement nor to social agreements.”
The new law is expected to be challenged in Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court.