New strike to hit German passenger rail from Monday

FRANKFURT (AFP) – Germany’s passenger train network faces a second round of strikes on Monday, with freight services beginning this weekend, adding more pain to the tourist season and already strained supply chains.

The latest move in an escalating wage dispute will impact passenger services from 2:00 am (0000 GMT) on August 23 and last 48 hours, the head of the GDL train drivers union Claus Weselsky told reporters Friday.

Strikes affecting cargo trains will begin August 21 and last four days ending at the same point, the union head said.

“Deutsche Bahn has up to this point not given notice that it will make any concessions in the pay dispute it started,” Weselsky said, referring to the German rail operator.

“The GDL sees itself forced to call for new strikes at Deutsche Bahn,” he said.

Deutsche Bahn criticised the announcement of the new strike, saying in a statement that it was “a wholly unnecessary burden for our passengers and freight clients”.

Earlier this month, the union led a walkout after its members voted overwhelmingly in favour in an internal ballot, following the collapse of pay talks with Deutsche Bahn.

On Germany’s long-distance rail network, the majority of trains did not run and those which did were much fuller than usual, during the two-day strike which began in the morning of August 11.

Deutsche Bahn’s freight service DB Cargo was also severely impacted, adding to delivery delays for German businesses already hit by shortages in raw materials and components from timber and steel to computer chips.

At the core of the dispute, the union is demanding a 1.4-percent pay hike and a bonus of 600 euros ($700) for 2021, and a further wage rise of 1.8 percent in 2022.

Deutsche Bahn had offered to phase in a 3.2-percent wage increase in two steps in 2022 and 2023.

Critics have accused GDL of using the strike to gain greater influence and attract members from larger union EVG — which covers railway workers and public transport employees.

The power struggle is all the more critical due to a rule that came into force this year stipulating that the collective deal negotiated by the biggest union applies across the sector.

The last major conflict between unions and Deutsche Bahn took place between 2014-2015, when over nine months, GDL organised nine rounds of strikes to demand regulatory reforms.

The stoppage in May 2015 of six consecutive days has held the record as the longest in the company’s history.

A shorter strike hit rail traffic in December 2018, when a stoppage was called for four hours.