Tariff dispute at the railways: Do politicians now have to arbitrate?

Status: 03.09.2021 8:54 a.m.

In the dispute between the GDL and Deutsche Bahn, the fronts are more hardened than ever. This brings back memories of the 2015 conflict, which could only be ended with the help of mediators.

In the third round of the strike of the German Locomotive Drivers’ Union (GDL), there is nothing to suggest that an agreement will be reached anytime soon. On the contrary. The latest offer from the railway – a corona bonus of up to 600 euros and a term of the collective agreement of 36 months – belong on the “rubbish heap of history,” said GDL boss Claus Weselsky. Deutsche Bahn, in turn, accuses the union not only of excessive demands, but also of outright breach of law – even if the group initially failed in its attempt to stop the strike by court order.

Daniela Kluckert, Deputy Chairman of the Transport Committee of the Bundestag, for political intervention

tagesschau24 11:00 a.m., 3.9.2021

At the same time, Weselsky has agreed to negotiate – the prerequisite, however, is a “materially sensible” offer from the railway. Weselsky also pointed out that the union had thousands of new members in other rail professions such as administration. So you can’t just negotiate for the train drivers.

The union had already struck in 2014 and 2015 in order to reach collective agreements for other professional groups such as train attendants, shunting engineers and trainers. “We got them. And we will now get collective agreements for the other railway workers,” said Weselsky. He accused the railway management of “destroying the existence of the GDL”. Nevertheless, a compromise is possible – which it does not look like at the moment.

It has already been arbitrated several times

So will there be a new edition from 2015, when the almost year-long strike by train drivers could only be ended with the help of two mediators? At that time, the GDL had asked the Thuringian Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow and the Bahn asked the SPD politician Matthias Platzeck for help, because both sides had become so wedged that the conflict would not have been resolved without the intervention of impartial parties.

One of the main points of contention – in addition to the question of wages – was the coexistence of the GDL and the competing railway and transport union (EVG). Both organizations wanted to conclude contracts for the same groups of employees, which Deutsche Bahn refused. Under the pressure of the shift workers, the railway had to give in and accepted that the GDL could negotiate and conclude collective agreements for all of its members – not just train drivers.

Even in the collective bargaining negotiations in 2016/2017, the arbitrators Platzeck and Ramelow had to mediate between the GDL and the railway – with success. After almost five months of negotiations, the GDL canceled an impending strike in May. However, strikes had already been banned during the arbitration process.

Attempted arbitration in November 2020 failed

A third attempt at arbitration, this time by Platzeck alone, in November last year between the GDL and the employers’ association MOVE was unsuccessful. While the railway and the EVG union agreed on a zero round for the current year, the GDL spoke of “fraud against the railway workers” and of the fact that Deutsche Bahn was using the Unified Tariff Act (TEG) exclusively against the GDL.

In the ongoing conflict, the GDL has so far rejected an attempt at arbitration. “The railway is only trying to gain time and to irritate the public and media representatives with bogus offers,” said GDL chairman Claus Weselsky of the “Augsburger Allgemeine”.

At the same time, there are increasing demands that politics intervene. “We see the responsibility of Federal Transport Minister Scheuer and the Chancellor here. They should have intervened weeks ago and prevented the situation from worsening,” said the deputy parliamentary leader of the Left, Gesine Lötzsch, in an interview with the ARD-Capital Studio. The FDP also relies on mediation through politics, even if not on the transport minister: “Mr Scheuer is extremely unsuitable. We need a neutral personality,” said the FDP transport expert Oliver Luksic in the ARD-Interview. The railway is 100 percent owned by the federal government.

“Politics should stay out of it”

But there are also serious concerns: “Politicians should stay out of it,” said SPD politician Detlev Müller in the WDR. In Germany the so-called tariff autonomy applies. That means: According to Article 9, Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law, the state has to stay away from negotiations on wages and conditions, that is a matter for the parties to the collective bargaining agreement. If at all, the state can only be called in as an arbitrator with the consent of both sides.

Beyond the current negotiations, SPD politician Müller can, however, imagine a round table with the two rail unions EVG and GDL, the Ministry of Transport and the railways: “So that we can discuss again at eye level what this is actually about.” Because whatever this dispute is about, even the train drivers ‘union is no longer making a secret: the rail unions’ spheres of influence among themselves.

The former arbitrator Bodo Ramelow also said that he did not see the latest offer from Deutsche Bahn as a basis for a new edition of such discussions. “With the submitted offer, I can not see an arbitration,” said the left-wing politician in the MDR. The current offer of the group does not provide for a waiver of the implementation of the collective bargaining law (TEG). However, this is a prerequisite for an agreement.

With information from Marcel Heberlein and Kai Küstner, ARD capital studio.

Rail strike – must politics mediate?

Kai Küstner, ARD Berlin, September 3, 2021 8:57 am

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