Strikes For Members

What January rail strikes in Germany might mean for travellers

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
What January rail strikes in Germany might mean for travellers
A sign announcing the train drivers' strike in Munich in November. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lukas Barth

The German train drivers’ union GDL has voted 97 percent in favour of "unlimited" strikes to start in January. So what might that mean for rail passengers around the country.


What's the cause for the strike?

To help offset inflation and cost of living increases, the union GDL is asking for a pay hike of at least €555 per month over the course of a year and a tax-free bonus of €3,000.

Deutsche Bahn has countered with an offer of an 11 percent pay increase over the course of 32 months and a bonus of €2,850 – but a key area of the ongoing dispute is a union demand for reduced working hours.

The GDL union is calling for a reduction in weekly working hours from 38 to 35.

READ ALSO: Could Germany introduce a four-day working week for employees?

So they are threatening an 'unlimited’ strike. What is that?

So far, train travellers in Germany have seen ‘warning strikes’ recently, where workers walk off the job for a day – or even just a few hours – at a time. They’re often used as negotiating tactics around key points in contract negotiations between relevant unions and their employers – to demonstrate leverage and how integral the service is to life in Germany.

Unlimited strikes go on for quite a bit longer. In the future, an unlimited strike could see workers stop for 24-48 hours – or even longer. In extreme cases, workers who’ve voted for unlimited strikes could walk off the job for weeks at a time.

While a warning strike usually sees workers specify how long they’ll be off the job for, unlimited strikes are indefinite. This means the union might not say when workers will start up again when they serve strike notice.

READ ALSO: German train drivers’ union votes for ‘unlimited’ strikes

What services would be affected?

GDL is the union that represents people who work for German state rail Deutsche Bahn.

A strike by them would bring long-distance and inter-city rail travel within Germany to a standstill.

Beyond this though, DB also runs Germany’s regional trains and the S-Bahn, which many people rely on for local transport or commuting as well.

Local transport run by municipal or regional associations though – which typically includes buses, trams, U-Bahns, and even local ferries – tend to be represented by different unions. They wouldn’t be affected by a GDL strike directly. Although, with S-Bahns offline, they may end up being busier than normal as people find alternate means of getting around locally.

Travellers might also expect increased demand – and thus prices – on private bus services, car rentals, taxis, or even flights.


Is it definitely happening and when will it start?

GDL says their recent member vote gives them a mandate to begin with unlimited strikes from January 7th, explicitly ruling out job action during the holidays – so travellers can breathe a sigh of relief that their Christmas travel plans are still intact.

Starting on January 7th though, the union can carry out their strike threat at any time.

Empty train tracks in Germany

Empty train tracks in Erfurt amid a nationwide strike. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Schutt

So far, they’ve not said if they intend to call a strike or when. Typically, these strikes are given with a few days notice. Again, once notice is given – an unlimited strike won’t always have a defined end date.

It is possible though, that DB bosses and the union arrive at a deal before then, averting a strike.


READ ALSO: Will Germany see more rail strikes in 2024?

What happens if I have a ticket booked for when a strike is to take place?

Compensation is paid out to rail travellers in Germany who end up having delayed or cancelled trains due to circumstances DB could have reasonably prevented. Weather doesn’t qualify, but strikes typically do.

You can find out more information on our dedicated explainers as to your rights. Typically however, you can get a voucher or a refund. DB may also automatically honour any tickets booked for a strike day in the days immediately following the end of a strike.




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