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Deutsche Bahn, union end wage talks

[BERLIN] Germany's GDL train drivers'union said on Sunday that Deutsche Bahn had broken off wage talks on Saturday evening, raising the spectre of further strikes, but the state-owned rail operator said the union had not turned up for further talks.

GDL said talks had been due to continue until Sunday evening but Deutsche Bahn had written to say it did not want to conduct further negotiations other than through a mediation procedure. "The employer has therefore deliberately gambled away its chance to get interim results and then mediation," GDL head Claus Weselsky said in a statement.

However, Deutsche Bahn said in a statement that GDL was twisting the facts and added: "The union did not turn up for the continuation of talks that had been planned for Sunday at 10 o'clock (0800 GMT)." Deutsche Bahn said the talks with GDL on Friday and Saturday had lasted for more than 20 hours.

The railway operator said it had come up with a new, comprehensive offer for the drivers and that while the GDL had initially said it might be possible to agree on the offer, it later rejected such a deal for political reasons.

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Ulrich Weber, head of personnel at Deutsche Bahn, said mediation was now needed more than ever.

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview with Bild am Sonntag that the dispute could not be solved by politicians. "Both sides should agree as soon as possible on a mediation process," he was quoted as saying.

Last Sunday train drivers ended a strike that had lasted nearly a week, the longest in Deutsche Bahn's history. It caused major disruption in a country where about 5.5 million passengers use the train network every day and one-fifth of freight - some 620,000 tonnes a day - is hauled by rail.

The GDL union, which represents 20,000 train drivers, launched the walkout to back demands to negotiate on behalf of other railway workers, such as train stewards, for a 5 per cent pay rise and a reduction in the working week to 37 hours from 39 hours.