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STRIKES

Are the German rail strikes going to end soon?

Passengers are hopeful that the frequent disruptions to rail services could soon be at an end after Germany's state-owned rail operator returned to the negotiation table with the train drivers' union.

Are the German rail strikes going to end soon?
A man sits on an otherwise deserted platform in Freiburg during strikes in early September. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

According to reports from DPA, Deutsche Bahn plans to make a “new and improved” offer to the GDL train drivers’ union ahead of this weekend in an attempt to see off renewed strike plans on Monday. 

READ ALSO: Trains return to normal across Germany – but more strikes loom

The GDL had previously said it was planning to start organising its next walk-out from September 13th – less than a week after its previous six-day strike action – if the rail operator did not come back with a “negotiable offer” by that date.

The contents of the planned offer have not yet been disclosed to the media, but a Deutsche Bahn spokeswoman said that the company was intensively examining where both sides could come closer together.

“In the interest of our customers, we must now urgently reach an agreement,” she told travel news site FVW

Ongoing wage dispute

So far in August and September, there have been three rail strikes organised by the GDL in an attempt to force Deutsche Bahn’s hand in a fierce battle over wages.

Having suffering record losses in the wake of the Covid pandemic, the rail operator wants to introduce a 3.2 pay increase for its staff in increments over three years – starting with a pay freeze in 2021. It has also promised that nobody will be laid off as a result of the company’s post-pandemic losses.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the German rail strikes could affect you

The GDL, meanwhile, is insistent that employees should be offered a wage increase of 3.2 percent over the next 28 months. In addition, the union is demanding a €600 ‘Covid bonus’ for continuing to work throughout the pandemic.

Ahead of the previous strike action, Deutsche Bahn said it was open to considering some kind of Covid bonus for employees.

But GDL chairman Claus Weselsky has accused the rail operator of being inflexible.


GDL chief Claus Weselsky has accused Deutsche Bahn of “playing for time”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

“We’ve given Deutsche Bahn time to think things over after the last strike, but it seems to me that the railway board is taking a bit long to think things over,” Weselsky said. He added that Deutsche Bahn was apparently playing for time, but warned that this could no longer be an option.

Weselsky has previously rejected offers from Deutsche Bahn that are not extended to all employees, and has said that all of the GDL’s demands must be met for the intermittent strikes to come to an end.

Majority of Germans disagree with the strikes

According to a YouGov survey on behalf of DPA, 53 percent of Germans had no sympathy with GDL’s most recent strike. In contrast, just over a third (36 percent) said they understood the union’s motives.

The strikes during the holiday season affected not only commuters but also holidaymakers. Moreover, the third strike in passenger transport also extended over the weekend.

According to the survey, around one in seven people in Germany were affected by the stoppages, which wreaked havoc on rail transport in all major cities and regions across the country.

READ ALSO: How to navigate the Deutsche Bahn train strikes in your region of Germany

Will the strikes be called off?

This all depends on the substance of the offer that Deutsche Bahn plans to make.

The GDL has assumed an unbending stance over the months-long dispute, and at this point it seems unlikely that anything other than an almost complete acceptance of their demands will get the union to call off the strikes. 

In a press statement issued on Thursday, Weselsky said that the question of whether the union should strike “has never been questioned by our members who are ready to fight”, adding that their right to strike had also been affirmed by the courts. 

READ ALSO: German rail chaos continues after two failed attempts to prevent strikes

“The alternatives are therefore on the table and DB has the choice of where to go,” he said. However, it should not wait too long to make its decision. We have been clear about the time frame.”

Member comments

    1. The first thing we learned when moving here is not to depend on the bus or the trains. They are very unreliable and strike at the drop of a hat. We pay more for our car, but we’ll get there and when we planned on getting there.

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TRAVEL NEWS

When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland on Monday. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, considers the beginning of May to be a realistic start date.

The federal and state transport ministers have set their sights on an April deadline, but this depends on whether funding issues and technical ones can be sorted out by then. In short, the only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023. 

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket continues to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

The federal government has agreed to stump up €1.5 billion for the new ticket, which the states will match out of their own budgets. That brings the total funding for the offer up to €3 billion. 

But according to Bremen’s transport minister Maike Schaefer, the actual cost of the ticket is likely to be closer to €4.7 billion – especially during the initial implementation phase – leaving a €1.7 billion hole in finances.

Transport companies are concerned that it will fall to them to take the financial hit if the government doesn’t provide enough funding. They say this will be impossible for them to shoulder. 

Burkert from EVG is calling on the federal government to provide more than the €1.5 billion originally earmarked for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.

So, what now? 

Well, it seems that the federal states are happy to pay half of whatever the ticket actually costs – but so far, the federal government has been slow to make the same offer.

With the two crucial ministries – the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry – headed up by politicians from the liberal FDP, environment groups are accusing the party of blocking the ticket by proxy. 

According to Jürgen Resch, the director of German Environment Aid, Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Transport Minister Volker Wissing are deliberately withholding the necessary financial support for the states.

Wissing has also come under fire from the opposition CDU/CSU parties after failing to turn up to a transport committee meeting on Wednesday. 

The conservatives had narrowly failed in a motion to summon the minister to the meeting and demand a report on the progress of the €49 ticket.

“The members of the Bundestag have many unanswered questions and time is pressing,” said CDU transport politician Thomas Bareiß, adding that the ticket had falling victim to a “false start”. 

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