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GERMANY'S train drivers voted overnight to stage strikes over pay that would first affect freight traffic but could also paralyse travel for millions of passengers during the peak holiday season.
The strikes, which would be the biggest to hit rail operator Deutsche Bahn in 15 years, are due to start with a "limited strike" on freight trains from Friday and then possibly spread to passenger services, the union said.
Manfred Schell, head of the GDL train drivers' union, said his members had failed to agree on a wage deal with Deutsche Bahn and 95.8 per cent of the union's members supported the strike.
He said the unions would give Deutsche Bahn until late tomorrow local time to improve its offer and avoid the strike.
"We are still hoping for a positive outcome", he said in Frankfurt. "Of course we want to do everything to avoid the anger of our clients."
Mr Schell later announced that the first strikes on Friday would be limited to freight transport. He said the union wanted to show it is not eager to cause disruption for passengers but warned the strikes could be expanded.
The GDL has refused to accept a wage deal that Deutsche Bahn made with two other rail unions last month, instead making higher demands which Deutsche Bahn chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn has described as "ridiculous".
The two other unions agreed to a deal that would give about 134,000 workers a 4.5 per cent raise from next year. The GDL has demanded pay rises of up to 31 per cent.
Last month, Germany was hit by disruptions to rail travel as workers staged warning strikes.
Economy Minister Michael Glos said yesterday the strike would damage Germany's economy and reputation.
The government plans to partially privatise Deutsche Bahn by 2009. If approved by parliament, the initial public offering is likely to be Germany's biggest since Deutsche Post was floated in 2000 in an IPO that raised €5.8 billion.
The union will outline the exact timetable of its planned strikes later.
From correspondents in Frankfurt
August 07, 2007 04:28am
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