German unions call major nationwide transport strike for Monday

German unions called a major transport strike for Monday, March 27th as workers demand higher wages to cope with surging inflation, the latest industrial action in Europe's top economy.

A flag of the Verdi trade union flies during the warning strike in front of the Charite hospital in Berlin-Mitte on Monday.
A flag of the Verdi trade union flies during one of their warning strikes in front of the Charite hospital in Berlin-Mitte. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Staff at airports, ports, the railways, buses and subways will walk out during the 24-hour strike, which will start at midnight in the early hours of Monday and last all day Monday, the Verdi and EVG unions announced on Thursday.

For the first time, the unions also want to shut down portions of Germany’s motorway, the Autobahn. This could technically possible via the federally owned Autobahn GmbH, whose staff will also participate in the action.

 “We think there will be extensive participation in the strike,” Verdi chief Frank Werneke told a press conference.

It follows a series of strikes in recent months in Germany in numerous areas, from the postal service to airports and local transport.

Like in many other countries, Germans are struggling with surging inflation after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent food and energy costs soaring.

Verdi represents some 2.5 million public sector employees, while EVG represents workers on the railways and at bus companies.

It is rare for unions to join forces to call a strike in Germany, and it follows a series of failed talks with employers in recent weeks.

Who and where in Germany will be most affected?

Strikes will occur in every state and city where Verdi and EVG have a strong nationwide presence, which is the case in most Bundesländer except Bremen and Hamburg.

In the cities and districts on strike, buses, trams and underground trains may no longer run. Express and school buses would also be affected, as well as the state-owned Deutsche Bahn and other railway companies.

Verdi is also calling for work stoppages at several airports and in public transport in the states of Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Bavaria. The motorway company Autobahn GmBH is also to go on strike, as well as the water and shipping administration.

In addition to Deutsche Bahn, the rail companies affected include Transdev, AKN, Osthannoversche Eisenbahnen, erixx, vlexx, eurobahn and Die Länderbahn, according to EVG.

A Deutsche Bahn ICE train travels along a railway line in the Hanover region.

A Deutsche Bahn ICE train travels along a railway line in the Hanover region. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

According to the unions, the warning strikes at airports concern, on one hand, the negotiations for public service workers, on the other hand local negotiations for ground handling workers as well as the nationwide negotiations for aviation security workers.

The ‘Mega-Strike’, as its dubbed in Germany, on March 27th could be a harbinger of another strike wave around the Easter holidays, which start on Thursday, April 6th this year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why travel chaos from transport strikes in Germany could get worse

What are the unions demanding?

The last wage agreement between Deutsche Bahn and EVG was concluded back in 2021, and this agreement is set to expire this year.

To replace it, the union is calling for a new agreement that includes a 12 percent pay increase for workers – amounting to at least €650 extra per month for senior employees and €325 more per month for junior employees. This could boost the pay packets of around 180,000 workers.

Meanwhile, Verdi has been engaged in tough negotiations for around 2.5 million workers in the pubic sector for several weeks.

They’re asking for a 10.5 percent pay increase amounting to at least €500 per month for employees in local administration, hospitals, local transport, waste disposal and other public-sector jobs. 

In the last round of negotiations in late February, employers offered a pay increase of five percent alongside inflation compensation bonuses totalling €2,500.

Verdi rejected this offer, describing it as “an insult” and “declaration of war” on its members. The next round of negotiations is set to take place between March 27th and 29th. 

“For the third round of negotiations, Verdi is now once again increasing the pressure on the employers to present a negotiable offer that meets the demands of the workers,” the union said in a press release Thursday.

Warning strikes in Munich

Public sector workers take part in demos during warning strikes in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Deutsche Bahn, meanwhile, criticised the strike action as “baseless and unnecessary”.

“The EVG must face up to its responsibility and return to the negotiating table immediately,” the company said in a press release put out on Thursday. “Our employees and passengers need a swift solution now, not a big warning strike. We have made a responsible offer and are ready to talk at any time.”

However, EVG remained defiant. 

“The railway companies, like the bus companies of Deutsche Bahn, are running out of employees. One reason for this is the poor pay,” said EVG chairman Martin Burkert in a statement on Thursday.

“Already today, bus and train connections are cancelled time and again because jobs are unfilled or colleagues have fallen ill due to the high workload.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why are there so many strikes in Germany right now?

Part of an ongoing strike wave

In the past weeks and months, public sector workers all over Germany have been going on strike, leading to the closure of public institutions, as well as numerous transport cancellations and delays. Verdi estimates that 400,000 of its members nationwide have taken part in the actions.

A countrywide strike, however, is a rare event in Germany.

Local and long-distance transport, as well as airports all over Germany, were struck simultaneously more than 30 years ago in the course of a strike lasting several weeks.

During this tough industrial action in the public sector in spring 1992, several hundred thousand workers temporarily stopped work.

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When will the next set of rail strikes take place in Germany?

Rail union EVG and German rail operator Deutsche Bahn have reached a deadlock in negotiations. Could there be another round of rail strikes as early as next week?

When will the next set of rail strikes take place in Germany?

As June gets underway, schools in a number of states are beginning their summer holidays, marking the start of Germany’s peak travel season.

From next week, the populous states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatine will all be on their summer break, with North Rhine-Westphalia due to follow at the end of June.

But the spectre of further strikes on Germany’s rail network is casting a shadow over many people’s travel plans – especially those who are planning a staycation. 

That’s largely because, after three rounds of negotiations, the rail union EVG and Deutsche Bahn still seem far away from reaching a pay deal.

While Deutsche Bahn is pitching a 12 percent pay hike over two years, EVG is insisting on 12 percent over 12 months, with a minimum pay rise of €650 per month to ensure lower earners get a steeper increase than their better-paid colleagues. 

In the latest exchange of blows between the two parties, EVG turned down the latest improved pay offer from Deutsche Bahn and slammed the proposals as “socially unjust”.

On Wednesday, the union also called on the rail operator resume talks and made a thinly veiled threat of further industrial action if DB refused.

“If nothing happens at the negotiating table, we have to apply pressure with #Warnstreiks,” it tweeted.

READ ALSO: German rail workers reject Deutsche Bahn pay deal: Are more strikes looming?

When could the next strikes happen?

According to media reports, EVG has ruled out strikes over the weekend, meaning rail passengers can breathe a sign of relief if they’re travelling on Saturday or Sunday.

That’s partly because any new round of strikes would require an internal vote, and also because Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of a tragic ICE accident in Eschede that saw 101 people lose their lives. 

“It is important for colleagues that we will not strike on this day and also not on the days of arrival and departure for the commemoration on Friday and Sunday,” EVG chief negotiator Kristian Loroch explained.

EVG strike demo Duisburg

Demonstrators from the EVG rail union gather in front of Duisburg Hauptbahnhof during a strike in March. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Reichwein

However, union sources have told Focus magazine that a strike on Monday or Tuesday is “highly likely” – partly because of the disruption it could cause over the busy holiday period.

There has also been speculation that EVG is waiting to see what rival train drivers’ union GDL will propose when it put forward its own pay demands on June 5th. 

Though GDL isn’t set to negotiate a new collective agreement until autumn, the union has has a combative relationship with EVG and has previously attacked the larger rail union for being too moderate in its demands. 

That suggests that GDL’s latest bid could act as a bellwether in EVG’s ongoing negotiations.  

Can more strikes still be avoided?

Earlier in the week, another round of national rail strikes appeared inevitable – but EVG’s tone softened slightly ahead of the weekend. 

According to reports in Tagesschau, Deutsche Bahn has now agreed to sit back at the negotiating table with EVG after initially ruling out more talks as “pointless”.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get compensation for delayed or cancelled trains in Germany

In a release announcing the news on Thursday evening, EVG steered clear of any mention of strikes.

However, it is still common practice in Germany for unions to call warning strikes ahead of scheduled talks as a way of flexing their muscles and strengthening their hand in negotiations.

These are normally announced a few days before they happen.