This story was updated on Friday, February 15th at 8.30 am.
The strike by public transport operator ‘Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe’ (BVG) employees – their first in six years – started at 3.30 am and is due to last until 12 noon. It affects the U-Bahn (subway), trams and buses across Berlin.
It's important to note that, along with U-Bahn services, the bus lines TXL, X9, 128 and 109 to Tegel airport will not operate until noon. Passengers from Schönefeld should switch to the S-Bahn or regional trains.
This could cause problems for people trying to get to the airports. Berlin airport bosses asked travellers to allow more time for their journey and to switch to other means of transport.
The powerful Verdi trade union called on its members to down their tools and walk out as part of a so-called ‘warning strike' in a dispute over pay and conditions.
The last strike by BVG workers – in 2012 – lasted 15 hours, however, it took place on a Saturday, meaning it had less of an impact although still caused huge disruption at the time.
It is estimated that more than one million BVG passengers will be hit by the latest action, with many more facing the knock-on effects due to overcrowding on other forms of transport like the S-Bahn.
The strikes will come after a day of industrial action in Berlin on Wednesday which saw schools and offices shut across the city. They are both the latest in a wave of industrial action in Germany that shows how powerful the unions are.
The action has included security staff and ground staff walking out of airports across the country in separate disputes, which have caused a huge amount of disruption.
Capital will come to a standstill
It is expected that the city will come to a standstill as the gates of U-Bahn stations remain closed on Friday. BVG bosses have warned that there will also likely be irregular services after the strike ends, signalling that traffic problems could last well into the afternoon and evening.
Those taking part in the strike are BVG employees who are members of the Verdi union. They include U-Bahn and bus drivers, technicians and other workers, such as those in the control centre.
“We expect that the strike will lead to considerable problems for many Berliners,” Petra Nelken, spokeswoman for the state-owned company BVG, warned earlier this week, reported the Berliner Zeitung.
The S-Bahn lines are not directly affected because these trains belong to the operator Deutsche Bahn. Regional trains are also not operated by BVG, so passengers can switch to these means of transport.
S-Bahn services and regional trains are, however, expected to be over-crowded as people flock to them during the strike. The Berliner Zeitung reports that the S1 (Zehlendorf-Potsdamer Platz) and the S5 (Mahlsdorf-Warschauer Straße) is planning a total of around 50 additional journeys, which may ease some of the congestion.
A notice letting customers know there are no trams, buses and U-Bahn services due to a strike in 2012. Photo: DPA
Even if some U-Bahn drivers come to work, it wouldn't mean that they could operate any trains. That's because if the control centre goes on strike, no underground train will be allowed on the tracks. “I think the S-Bahn will have a lot to do on Friday,” Nelken said.
A total of 28 subcontracted bus lines and all ferries are excluded from industrial action because subcontractors are not on strike.
– The following bus lines are running: 106, 161, 162, 163, 168, 175, 179, 218, 234, 263, 275, 320, 322, 334, 341, 349, 363, 365, 371, 373, 399
– The following bus lines are operating with some restrictions: 112, 140, 184, 283, 284, 370 and 893
– The BVG ferry lines are also in operation. There are six ferry lines at locations including at Wannsee and Müggelsee.
Cycle, car pool or work from home
In order to get to work, most passengers will have to switch to other means of transport. It is recommended that passengers travel by bike or join a carpool with other colleagues. Other workers have been asking to work from home when possible to avoid trying to travel during the strike.
It is likely that taxis will be booked up in advance.
Meanwhile, the Berlkönig ride sharing service will also be affected. Although the drivers are not employed by BVG, the vehicle fleet uses parking spaces owned by the company.
“I don't think many drivers will get their vehicles from the yard,” said press spokeswoman Nelken.
Can I be late for work because of the strike?
In short – not really, although hopefully employers are understanding. According to German law, members of staff are responsible for getting to work on time. And this is also the case if, for example, buses and trains are cancelled or delayed due to a strike, explained Nathalie Oberthür, specialist lawyer for labour law, reported DPA.
In concrete terms, this means that if the industrial action and its presumed consequences have been announced in advance, workers must prepare accordingly – i.e. set off earlier or use other means of transport.
Anyone who does not do this and arrives late theoretically risks a warning, even if it only happens once. It is different if there is no time to prepare, for example if there is a transport accident or freak weather. Employees cannot be reprimanded for arriving late in these circumstances.
Furthermore, anyone who misses their working hours isn't obliged to receive any pay for it in these circumstances according to Oberthür.
Why is the strike taking place?
Verdi demands that the weekly working time for employees who joined the BVG after 2005 be reduced from 39 to 36.5 hours – with full wage compensation.
This would require 500 additional employees, said Claudia Pfeiffer, managing director of the local employers' association (KAV), earlier this week.
The negotiations on the new collective agreement for the 14,500 employees are also about a fairer classification in the wage and salary table. The Christmas bonus of €1,400, which is only paid out after one year of being an employee, should also be paid earlier, according to the union.
The trade union has also demanded a one-off payment of €500 from the BVG for its members. The bottom line is that all the improvements demanded would increase the BVG's annual personnel costs (most recently around €570 million) by €60 million, according to Verdi.
The union has warned that more strikes could take place.
BVG bosses have described the strike as “completely inappropriate”.