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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
German train drivers in walkout
Train on platform at Berlin's Hauptbahnhof railway station
Drivers say they will not act illegally
German train drivers have staged brief walkouts in two cities in an escalation of their pay dispute with state operator Deutsche Bahn.

Drivers from the GDL union stopped work for two hours in Berlin and Hamburg, affecting commuter services.

Deutsche Bahn has secured an injunction against strikes on commuter services outside Berlin and Hamburg as well as long-distance and freight services.

GDL says its members are underpaid and is seeking a 31% pay rise for staff.

However, GDL said it would not hold any further strikes until it had concluded the first round of talks with Deutsche Bahn.

GDL and Deutsche Bahn have agreed to use mediators to try and find a solution that would avoid continuing industrial action.

"We will not call further strikes now. That would be counterproductive in this situation," a GDL spokesman said.

'Clear signal'

Wednesday's court ruling, blocking strike action on the grounds of the economic damage it would cause, did not cover regional services in Berlin and Hamburg.

The drivers' patience is at an end
Claus Weselsky, GDL deputy chairman

The GDL union is still appealing against the injunction but has insisted its members would not take part in illegal action.

"This is the measure that is available to us", said Claus Weselsky, GDL's deputy chairman.

Mr Weselsky said his members were angered that the firm had sought an injunction without seeking first to negotiate.

"We want to send a clear signal. The drivers' patience is at an end."

GDL says its members are paid 1,500 euros (1,015) a month and should benefit more from the recovery of the German economy, which has boosted freight and passenger traffic.

Deutsche Bahn has agreed a pay deal with two other unions which will see workers receive a 4.5% rise in wages.

Privatisation plan

Deutsche Bahn, which carries more than five million passengers a day, has said it hopes to restart negotiations as soon as possible.

Both sides have said they will consider outside mediation to end the dispute.

A Deutsche Bahn employee at Berlin station
Economists say the impact of a short dispute would be limited

Business groups have said repeated strikes could cause "immense" damage to the economy at the height of the holiday season.

However, one analyst said the likely impact on productivity would be limited since the railways only carried a fraction of the amount of freight transported by road.

"Provided that the strike is resolved within a week or two, we would not expect it to knock any more than 0.1% off German GDP this year," said Jennifer McKeown, European economist at Capital Economics.

Prolonged strike action could also threaten plans to part-privatise Deutsche Bahn next year.

Unions have expressed concerns at the plan, approved by ministers last month, to sell off a stake of up to 25% to private investors.

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