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Gridlocked Berlin faces protracted transit strike

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Gridlocked Berlin faces protracted transit strike
No rail service and gridlocked traffic in Berlin. Photo: dpa
10:47 CET+01:00
Commuters in Berlin could be in for a few tough weeks, as Germany’s capital faces a protracted and increasingly ugly transit strike.

The employees of Berlin’s public transportation system the BVG have decided to extend their strike indefinitely in order to press their wage demands with the city. Originally, the labour protest – which has brought Berlin’s metro, trams and buses to a standstill – was to end at least temporarily this Friday.

But public sector trade union Verdi decided this week to have BVG workers stick to the picket lines heading into next week’s Easter school holidays.

Richard Meng, a spokesman for the city, expressed regret over the decision. “That’s the wrong signal if the union goes on strike before they negotiate. It used to be the other way around,” Meng criticized.

But Verdi put the blame for the ongoing transit chaos squarely on the public employers. “The conflict is getting worse,” said Verdi spokesman Andreas Splanemann. “The employers aren’t budging.”

Verdi wants a wage increase of up to 12 percent for all BVG workers, or at least €250 more each month. But public authorities are only offering an increase of six percent by 2010 and most workers would receive a one-off payment.

Berlin dodged total transit chaos this week, after an unrelated railway strike was narrowly avoided on Monday. That allowed the city’s commuter trains to keep running even as the BVG’s underground trains, trains and buses stayed in their depots. But there are signs that that the mood in the German capital is starting to turn against the public transportation strike.

With the city's streets are clogged with grumpy motorists and cyclists, the daily paper Der Tagesspiegel reported on Monday that BVG employees have stopped wearing their uniforms as they head to the picket lines for fear of retribution from angry Berliners. The paper reported that the cars of BVG workers have also been vandalized.

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