October 7, 2014 / 1:38 PM / 3 years ago

Train drivers, pilots' strikes target German freight

Commuters walk in front of the logo of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn at Berlin's Hauptbahnhof main railway station in Berlin October 7, 2014.Hannibal

BERLIN (Reuters) - Strikes by train drivers' and pilots' unions over pay and conditions in Germany are expected to disrupt travelers and freight inside and outside the country from Tuesday evening.

Train drivers' union GDL has called for a nine-hour nationwide strike starting on Tuesday evening. Pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit has announced a two-day strike at Lufthansa's freight arm starting at 2100 ET on Wednesday.

The strike by drivers, which runs from 1500 ET Tuesday until 0000 ET on Wednesday, follows two three-hour strikes in recent weeks. It will predominantly affect morning commuters plus freight transported at night in almost 5,000 trains.

"Strikes in rail freight can affect production after just a couple of days, because goods transported by rail often cannot be swiftly shifted to road or sea," Achim Dercks, the deputy head of Germany's Chambers of Commerce, told Reuters on Tuesday.

GDL is seeking a 5 percent pay rise and a two-hour shorter working week of 37 hours from employer Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned rail operator.

The union is also seeking a mandate to negotiate for train guards and other personnel. Deutsche Bahn has rejected this.

Deutsche Bahn had proposed halting the pay dispute until the government had passed a law on standardized wages, which would see the wage deal for the union with the most members in a company apply. GDL has refused to wait.

Deutsche Bahn criticized the decision to widen the strikes and said it may take until Wednesday midday before trains return to normal. It said it was prepared to negotiate at any time.

CARGO STRIKE

The train drivers' walkout will overlap with the two-day strike by pilots at Lufthansa Cargo.

That strike will be the sixth this year by pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit, which is pushing management to retain a scheme that allows them to retire early at 55 and still receive a portion of their wages.

Lufthansa has estimated the strikes have cost it around 70 million euros so far. The walkout will not affect passengers.

Lufthansa Cargo, which normally carries out 21 freighter flights during the strike period, said the walkout would have little impact and that it expected to carry out all flights. Two flights will depart outside of the strike period, it said.

Several pilots had volunteered to fly, a spokesman said.

The pilots union said an end to the row was not in sight and more strikes could come. "Next time we could hold a strike at Lufthansa's main passenger airline business or Germanwings," VC board member Joerg Handwerg told Reuters.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen, Markus Wacket and Rene Wagner; Editing by Stephen Brown/Jeremy Gaunt

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