Passenger train drivers in Germany walked off the job on Wednesday and vowed not to return on strike for six days over working conditions and pay, threatening to bring most long-distance and commuter rail travel across the country to a halt.
The strike, one of the most significant on the national rail service in years, was announced on Monday by Klaus Weselski, president of the GDL, the union representing German train drivers. Mr Veselski said at a brief news conference that talks with rail bosses had broken down and he accused Deutsche Bahn, the national rail company’s chief negotiator, of “manipulation and deception”, particularly regarding the latest proposal.
The rail strike, the fourth in two months, comes amid the risk of funding for the rail system being reduced following a court ruling that blocked the government from repurposing money from coronavirus pandemic funds for green projects. It also comes amid a trend of poor performance for German trains. More broadly, there is general dissatisfaction with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration, which is plagued by infighting and seen by some as turning away from the problems facing regular Germans.
This time, the walkout is scheduled to last the entire weekend and will therefore affect more leisure travelers than recent previous strikes, which took place during the week and did not last more than three days. The drivers of goods trains started the strike on Tuesday evening.
About this 7.3 million people Trains operated by Deutsche Bahn are ridden every day in Germany, and numbers are rising as more passengers turn to rail amid concerns about climate change. According to federal data, Deutsche Bahn trains also carry about 600,000 tons of freight every day.
Deutsche Bahn tried to get an emergency injunction ahead of a three-day walkout this month, but a Frankfurt court found the union had the right to strike. The company said on Monday that it would not resort to courts to force employees to return to work.
The most contentious issue in the labor dispute is how many hours drivers working on a shift schedule are required to work. The union has called for a 35-hour week, while Deutsche Bahn has offered a 37-hour week. Drivers currently work 38 hours a week. The union is also demanding a pay increase of 555 euros a month, or about $600, for all its employees, equivalent to an 18 percent increase on the starting salary. Deutsche Bahn’s latest offer, which the union rejected, would have raised about 13 percent for workers who work a full 38 hours a week.
Mr. Veselski said his union is pushing for changes to make jobs more attractive to young people.
On Monday, Germany’s Transport Minister Volker Wissing criticized the strike, saying the conflict over contracts was taking an “increasingly destructive tone” and that he had “zero sympathy” for the union.
Mr. Vissing said, “I don’t think Mr. Weselski is doing himself or his association any favors with this style.”
As in many other European countries, trains in Germany are an important means of transportation for a significant portion of the population, providing both regular service and short commuter trips between major cities. Nevertheless, the approximately 25,000 miles of rail in Germany are overburdened, and less than 65 percent According to Deutsche Bahn’s own numbers, intercity trains ran on time last year. Mr Scholz’s government has vowed to invest in rebuilding old lines, but that construction will take years to complete, and the network is likely to deteriorate further in the meantime.
There are two main unions representing railway workers in Germany. Big EVG last year settled a dispute with Deutsche Bahn over wage increases to keep up with inflation. Those raises add up to about 410 euros a month, or about $445, and a one-time tax-free bonus of about $3,100. According to Christian Böttger, a professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin who studies rail transport, that agreement means Deutsche Bahn is more willing to play hardball with the smaller GDL, to which most train drivers belong.
“When it comes to real issues, the two sides are not that far apart,” Professor Böttger said, referring to GDL and Deutsche Bahn.
Markus Hecht, an expert on rail transport at the Technical University of Berlin, said he was concerned the six-day strike would hurt Deutsche Bahn’s goal of attracting new riders and freight, one of Mr Scholz’s three stated climate goals. . Party alliance. If the rail system is seen as unreliable, Professor Hecht said, passengers and businesses may look elsewhere for transportation.
“This will have a huge impact that will go well beyond those days,” Professor Hecht said. “It will also have negative long-term effects.”