German train drivers call strike in escalating wage dispute

German train drivers call strike in escalating wage dispute
Passengers walk along the platform at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Strikes over the coming days could affect both regional and inner-city trains. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld
German train drivers voted to go on strike over a wage dispute on Tuesday, with the industrial action expected to impact passengers from Wednesday onwards.

The decision – which comes at the height of the German holiday season – could cause long delays for holidaymakers as they set off on their summer break. 

READ ALSO: German train drivers announce strikes after pay talks collapse

The walkout will impact cargo trains from 7pm on Tuesday, before extending to passenger traffic on Wednesday at 2am, said the leader of the train drivers’ GDL union, Claus Weselsky.

The strike will then continue until 2am on Friday.

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According to Weselsky, railway workers are unwilling to accept a pay freeze for the current year and is demanding a €600 coronavirus bonus and a 3.2 percent increase in wages over the next 28 months. 

The head of the union also confirmed that the around 70 percent of staff took part in the ballot, and 95 percent of those attending voted in favour of a strike to resolve the issue. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany is finally set to improve Wifi and phone signal on trains

German railways have lost billions in revenues during the Covid-19 pandemic and due to the damage caused by July’s catastrophic floods. In response to the union’s demand, they are proposing incremental pay rises over the coming years – starting with a 1.5 percent increase in pay in 2022. 

Railway bosses: The strike is an ‘attack on the whole country’

Criticising the move, DB’s railway personnel manager Martin Seiler labelled the strike “an attack on the whole country”.

A railway spokeswoman told DPA on Monday that the strikes would be a “slap in the face” for the train company’s customers and employees.

But the union says it does not want to disrupt holidaymakers and is only fighting for a better deal for workers.

“We intentionally chose this timeframe in the week to limit the impact on weekend and holiday traffic,” said Weselsky.

Contingency plans

As of Monday, the railways had not given details of any contingency plans during the strikes .

During the last GDL locomotive drivers’ strike six years ago, an emergency timetable was drawn up to maintain at least some operations.

READ ALSO: Delayed train? Germany’s Deutsche Bahn to give online refunds for first time

About a third of long-distance trains were able to run, especially on the main lines from the Ruhr region to the east and from Hamburg to the south.

Writing on Twitter, the president of the Federal Association for Renewable Energy questioned what Deutsche Bahn was doing to avoid disruption this time around.

“I am curious to see how the emergency timetable of the @DB_Bahn looks – because this wasn’t unexpected,” she wrote. “Most federal states are still on holiday, and a plan B is needed quickly for travel and commuter traffic.” 

In regional and suburban trains, a large number of trains are likely to be cancelled in the event of an engine drivers’ strike. The disrupted operations could then also lead to restrictions for Deutsche Bahn’s competitors.

Power struggle 

In addition to the dispute over wage increases, a power struggle is currently raging between the GDL and the larger railway and transport union (EVG).

This is the first strike at Deutsche Bahn since December 2018, when the EVG called on its members to take industrial action.

However, the GDL strike in 2014 and 2015 was far more severe, with train drivers under Weselsky’s leadership striking in eight successive waves and paralysing large parts of the network.

According to DPA, EVG signed an agreement on pay and conditions with Deutsche Bahn last autumn.


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