Weekly Newsletter

08 March 2024

Weekly Newsletter

08 March 2024

What’s causing Germany’s mass transport strikes?

Following failed negotiations, German unions have called on members at Deutsche Bahn and Lufthansa to strike again this week.

Alex Blair March 04 2024

Failed negotiations over wages and working conditions between German transport unions, rail companies, and airlines will see employees continue strikes across Germany this week.

Today, 4 March, the Union of German Locomotive Drivers (GDL) called on its members at Deutsche Bahn to strike on 7 and 8 March, after weeks-long talks collapsed last Thursday, 29 February.

Deutsche Bahn’s human resources director Martin Seiler described the GDL’s decision as “stubborn and selfish” and said it was “massively endangering the railway system”.

The GDL said Deutsche Bahn’s board had “not understood the GDL’s demands for a 35-hour week” and that the strike “will last 35 hours” as a reminder.

Freight transport strikes will last longer, beginning on 6 March and ending on 8 March. The latest round of talks marks the fifth round of strikes in the GDL-Deutsche Bahn dispute.

Tensions first rose in November when the GDL called a 20-hour strike, followed by further industrial action in early December, which escalated to a three-day strike from 9 to 12 January.

Deutsche Bahn has twice tried to take the GDL to court on the grounds of being unable to negotiate, but both times the courts ruled against the state-owned railway company.  

What’s happening with the Verdi-Lufthansa dispute?

Trains, trams, and buses were brought to a near standstill last Friday, 1 March, across 14 of the 16 German states after the GDL terminated negotiations with Deutsche Bahn – and Germany’s influential Verdi union organised walkouts among its 90,000 members.

Berlin’s public transport operator BVG called the strike action “unnecessary and completely exaggerated”.

Today, Verdi called on Lufthansa ground staff to strike over the same period as the GDL’s latest round of strikes on 7 and 8 March.

Lufthansa has offered pay increases over an extended period, but Verdi says this is not in line with the 12% pay raise it is seeking for member workers.

“In the past three days alone, we have had to cancel 28 freighter flights and have lost a mid-single-digit million-euro amount as a result,” Frank Bauer, CFO and labour director at Lufthansa Cargo, tells Railway Technology. “The new strike is an additional burden for us and directly strengthens our competitors – it does not increase our room for negotiation.”

A Lufthansa Group spokesperson adds that the new strike was “completely unacceptable”, saying Lufthansa had offered Verdi a chance to renegotiate today.

Verdi referred comment to the GDL when approached by Railway Technology.

How have German airports been affected?

Lufthansa’s claim that the most recent Verdi strike had caused “considerable economic damage” was not supported by leading German airports.

“Capacity is not affected at all,” Berlin Brandenburg Airport spokesperson Jan-Peter Haack tells Railway Technology. “It might happen that Lufthansa will update their flight schedule and passengers might be booked on alternative flights and cancellations might be necessary.”

Berlin Brandenburg Airport faced severe disruption last month when Verdi called a mass strike, with no departures at all on 1 February.

There were also widespread flight cancellations across ten other German airports including Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Leipzig, Cologne, and Frankfurt.

Frankfurt Airport handles more cargo than any other German airport – but spokesperson Christian Engel says that the impact of the most recent strikes had been minor.

“As an airport operator, we felt the consequences in the form of a few flight cancellations,” he tells Railway Technology. “We appeal to the fare partners to negotiate an amicable solution.”

All eyes now turn to the unionised Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn employees, and how many will heed the GDL and Verdi’s calls to strike.

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