Collective agreement finally reached for German engine drivers

In mid April 2007, after about a year of negotiations, the rank and file members of the German Engine Drivers’ Union (GDL) finally approved the results of the collective bargaining round with the German rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB). In July 2007, the rail workers’ trade unions had already negotiated a collective agreement with DB, covering 134,000 employees, However, GDL secured an independent collective agreement for about 20,000 engine drivers at DB in the spring of 2008.

The reason for the protracted collective bargaining negotiations in the railways sector is the rivalry between the German Engine Drivers’ Union’ (Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivführer, GDL) and the other two trade unions in the sector – Transport, Service and Networks (Transport, Service und Netze, Transnet), affiliated to the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB), and the Transport Trade Union GDBA (Verkehrsgewerkschaft GDBA), affiliated to the German Federation of Career Public Servants (Deutscher Beamtenbund, dbb). Transnet and GDBA are united in a formal collective bargaining association (Tarifgemeinschaft) based on a mutual agreement between the two trade unions.

Previously, the three trade unions and the Employers’ Association of Mobility and Transport Service Providers (Arbeitgeberverband der Mobilitäts- und Verkehrsdienstleister, Agv MoVe), representing the German rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB), had signed a package of collective agreements on pay and job security covering all DB employees (DE0504205F). With the collective wage agreement that was part of this package due to expire on 30 June 2007, a new collective bargaining round in the railways sector began earlier that year.

Trade unions demands in 2007 collective bargaining round

In contrast to the then valid collective wage agreement that had been negotiated and signed by all three trade unions, in a press release (in German), GDL decided to call for negotiating a separate collective agreement for around 30,000 engine drivers, ticket collectors and train catering staff. In a further press statement in March 2007, the Chair of GDL, Manfred Schell, also called for higher entry-level salaries and shorter weekly working time. GDL demanded an initial monthly salary for engine drivers of €2,500, compared with the basic monthly starting salary of €1,970 being paid at the time.

However, GDL’s call for an independent collective agreement was severely criticised for abandoning the legal principle, derived from decisions of the Federal Labour Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht, BAG), stipulating that different wage agreements should not coexist at one and the same company (Tarifeinheit).

The Transnet/GDBA association, on the other hand, had in a press statement (in German) in March 2007 called for a pay rise of 7% with a minimum monthly wage increase of €150 for lower income groups. While GDL was fighting for an independent collective agreement for certain occupational groups at DB, Transnet/GDBA, which organises around 134,000 employees at DB, continued to negotiate a collective wage agreement for all DB employees.

Negotiations between Transnet/GDBA and DB

Results of collective bargaining

Negotiations between Transnet/GDBA and DB began on 19 June 2007. In the first round of negotiations, according to a press article (in German), DB did not make any pay offer. In the second round, the company offered a pay increase of 2% but demanded in return an increase in the weekly working time to 40 hours.

On 9 July 2007, Transnet/GDBA and DB presented the outcome of the collective bargaining round (in German). In terms of pay provisions, the two parties had agreed on the following:

  • a pay rise for employees of 4.5%, effective from 1 January 2008;
  • a lump-sum payment of €600 for all employees.

By the time the agreement expires on 31 January 2009, all employees will be receiving a monthly salary of at least €1,600.

Separate negotiations sought for new pay structure

However, only two days after the newly concluded agreement had been finalised, Transnet/GDBA announced in a statement to the press that they were seeking further negotiations concerning the introduction of an entirely new pay structure for DB employees. In their statement, the trade unions emphasised that they wanted to negotiate this structure separately from their demands in the pay round; therefore, they had not pursued the issue of an overall renewal of the existing pay structure with DB during the collective bargaining round just concluded.

In the autumn of 2007, DB announced to the press the cornerstones of the newly negotiated pay structure (in German). On 30 November 2007, the company agreed to a total pay rise of 10% to be implemented between 1 January and 31 December 2008. This included the initial pay rise of 4.5% already agreed in July 2007. Trade unions and employers also reached consensus on the introduction of a pay scale involving a new grouping of employees. The agreement on the new pay structure also provides for an increase in employees’ profit sharing by 50% for 2007. Up until the autumn of 2007, the employee profit share (in German) had been set at €100 or €200, depending on the profits earned by the company.

New collective bargaining structure agreed

Moreover, DB and Transnet/GDBA agreed on the introduction of a new collective bargaining structure within the company, which will come into operation in 2008. According to this new bargaining structure, a basic collective agreement (Basis-Tarifvertrag) will regulate holidays, employee profit sharing and retirement provisions, while special collective agreements (Zusatztarifverträge) will cover the new pay scale, bonuses and working time issues. Nonetheless, the details of each of these collective agreements still need to be negotiated.

DB’s Director of Human Resources (HR), Margret Suckale, also stated that a special collective agreement for engine drivers could be part of this bargaining structure, thereby avoiding the coexistence of different collective agreements at the same company.

Negotiations between GDL and DB

Demand for independent agreement for engine drivers

During the summer of 2007, DB, Transnet/GDBA and GDL referred their dispute to a joint dispute resolution procedure (Schlichtung). On 28 August 2007, the two sides presented the results (in German) of this process. GDL gave up its initial claim to represent all train crews and accepted that it only represented engine drivers. While still calling for an independent collective agreement for engine drivers, GDL declared that it sought to work together closely with Transnet/GDBA. The latter association highlighted in a press announcement (in German) that attempts by any trade union to ‘go it alone’ shall be avoided.

However, GDL underlined its demand for an independent agreement for engine drivers by organising strike action. In November 2007, according to GDL figures, about 20,320 engine drivers and train staff stopped work for 62 hours. Even freight transport was affected by the strike. December 2007 and January 2008 saw further strike action by GDL and intermittent negotiations between GDL and DB.

First draft of engine drivers’ agreement

In January 2008, the two sides finally announced the first outline of a future agreement for engine drivers. In a press statement (in German), DB explained that a lump-sum payment of €800 – backdated to 1 July 2007 – was to be made, while from March 2008, engine drivers were to receive a pay increase of 8%. Furthermore, their wages are to be raised by another 3% by September 2008. This wage agreement is set to expire on 31 January 2009. The two sides also agreed on a reduction of weekly working hours for engine drivers – effective from 1 February 2008 – from 41 to 40 hours a week without any loss in wages.

Nonetheless, DB emphasised that the adoption of a final collective agreement for GDL would depend on the consent of Transnet/GDBA to the conclusion of such an agreement. In a press announcement (in German), the latter association stated that it expected the company to keep its promise that different collective agreements at the company would not conflict with each other.

Details concerning the scope of the agreement were still to be clarified by the three trade unions and DB. Issues to be resolved included whether drivers of small railroad locomotives called shunters, newly employed engine drivers – hired on or after 1 January 2008 – or engine drivers at DB’s subsidiary DB Temporary Employment Agency were also to be covered by the GDL agreement for engine drivers. However, consultations between the three trade unions at the beginning of March 2008 on their possible cooperation had failed.

Collective agreement for engine drivers signed

On 9 March 2008, GDL finally announced in a statement to the press (in German) that DB had signed the collective agreement for engine drivers. Apart from the cornerstones outlined above, the two sides agreed on the following:

  • GDL and Agv MoVe, representing DB, would sign a basic collective agreement that recognises the independence of the collective agreement for engine drivers;
  • GDL has the right to negotiate collective agreements for engine drivers not only at DB but also at its subsidiaries.

The collective agreement (in German, 3.21Mb PDF) will take retroactive effect from 1 March 2008.

On 11 March 2008, DB’s HR Director, Ms Suckale, highlighted in an article in the daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), in connection with the new settlement, that the trade unions had agreed on a clear demarcation of employees to be represented by them. In this context, Ms Suckale further mentioned that GDL had chosen to concede to the representation of shunter drivers, who are now covered by the collective agreement of Transnet/GDBA.

On 14 March 2008, Transnet/GDBA finally approved the collective agreement for engine drivers concluded by GDL and DB, as highlighted in a press statement (in German). It was furthermore agreed that the GDL agreement would also cover engine drivers represented by Transnet/GDBA. On 14 April 2008, the rank and file members of GDL also announced in a press statement (in German) their approval of the collective agreement for engine drivers. Interestingly, during the collective bargaining round in the railways sector in 2007, about 40,000 working days were lost due to strike action initiated by GDL (DE0802019I).


GDL is another trade union that has succeeded in establishing a collective agreement for one particular occupational group in a single company. Earlier examples of similar agreements include the ground-breaking collective agreement between the German airline Lufthansa and the German Airline Pilots’ Association (Vereinigung Cockpit, VC) for Lufthansa pilots in 2001 (DE0106226F), as well as the collective agreement negotiated by the trade union representing medical doctors, Marburger Bund (MB), for doctors at university hospitals in 2006 (DE0607019I).

However, as the lengthy campaign by GDL highlights, these arrangements cannot entirely prevent trade unions from competing for members and for the right to represent certain groups of employees at the establishment level.

Sandra Vogel, Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln)

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