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Reader Question: Can workers in Germany stay home during transport strikes?

With rail transport at a standstill across Germany on Monday, many workers will be wondering what they can do if they can't make it into work.

A man looks at a monitor in the main train station in Mannheim, which informs passengers about Monday's rail strike.
A man looks at a monitor in the main train station in Mannheim, which informs passengers about Monday's rail strike. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

Over the past few months, Germany has been hit by what seems like a never-ending wave of public sector strikes. On Monday, the industrial action ramped up, as rail workers’ union EVG and Verdi workers joined forces in a combined ‘mega strike’, paralysing much of the country’s rail network, as well as some bus routes, trams and air traffic.

Those with a long commute may have been left wondering how they’d be able to get to work – if at all. But would German employers see that as a valid reason to stay home? Here’s what you need to know.  

Can I stay at home if there is a strike?

In general, employees in Germany bear the so-called “travel risk”, which means that even if there is a strike, it’s their responsibility to be at work on time.

READ ALSO: Strikes: Do parents in Germany receive a day off work when Kitas close?

However, as many employers are now more flexible regarding working from home following the pandemic, it may be possible to work from home if you discuss the situation with your employer in beforehand. 

If the strike is announced in advance – as with Monday’s strike – you have to ask them about this in advance. If there is a spontaneous strike, you should contact your employer as soon as possible. If you simply show up late without an excuse or don’t go to work, you could be given a warning.

What rules apply in the event of announced strikes?

When strikes are announced in advance, employees have to do everything they can reasonably be expected to do in order to be at work on time.

For strike days, this means getting up earlier, travelling by car or bicycle, carpooling, and planning for traffic jams and detours in advance. If this results in higher costs than on a “normal” workday – for example, for petrol or taxi fare – that is still employee’s responsibility.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What to expect during Monday’s ‘mega strike’ in Germany

Only in exceptional circumstances can the extra expense or travel time be considered unreasonable: if, for example, people with low incomes have to take long and expensive cab rides to work, it might be okay not to drive to work on strike days.

What rules apply in the event of spontaneous strikes?

Even if there is a spontaneous strike, employees have to make an effort to be at work on time. However, the requirements are not quite as strict and being issued a warning by an employer for showing up late could be considered disproportionate.

Do employees have a right to work from home?

Since the pandemic, working from home has become much more common – but that doesn’t mean that employees have an automatic right to steer clear of the office. 

Nevertheless, if your employers allows it – and you’re able to carry out work from home – this could be a good option on strike days.

An empty train station in Stuttgart.

An empty train station in Stuttgart on the day of a strike. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Rettig

Do employees get paid if they are late because of strikes?

No. The general rule is that you don’t get paid for the time you don’t work as an employee. The exceptions to this rule are sick days and holiday leave and the odd personal occasion such as a wedding or funeral in the immediate family.

However, since a strike affects many other people, it can’t be considered a “personal” reason, so the principle of “no work, no pay” still applies on strike days.

Do children have to go to school when buses and trains are on strike?

Even when buses and trains are on strike, compulsory education generally goes ahead and students are expected to show up to school.

On Monday, however, some federal states have introduced special rules. 

For example, in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, students can avoid face-to-face classes if they have no alternative means of travel, though they have to inform the school first thing in the morning.

In North Rhine-Westphalia school administrators are supposed to “act with a sense of proportion” if it becomes virtually impossible for students to get to school.

Pupils in Brandenburg can be exempted from compulsory attendance if they have to travel by bus or train.

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Bavaria hit by more transport disruption as bus drivers continue strike

The union Verdi has called for full-day strikes for bus drivers in three Bavarian cities on Tuesday and Wednesday - part of a larger wave of actions for higher wages and better working conditions.

Bavaria hit by more transport disruption as bus drivers continue strike

Bus services in the cities of Bamberg, Landshut and Passau will only be running on limited routes through to the end of the day on Wednesday. 

In Landshut all transport will be affected, with the exception of line 9 (Altstadt – Hauptbahnhof – Münchnerau – Gündlkoferau) as well as the school and commuter lines 528, 529, 533, 534, 568, 574, 576 and 577.

All bus service in Passau and Bamberg – including school buses – is also set to be brought to a halt. 

Part of ongoing strikes

The strikes follow a larger action which took place on Friday, in which Verdi paralysed traffic in 10 Bavarian cities in the ongoing battle for higher wages.

Verdi struck a deal for a 5.5 percent pay raise for public sector workers throughout Germany in April, putting an end to months of nationwide strikes not just in several public transport companies, but also at Kitas (daycare centres), rubbish collection, and administrative offices. 

READ ALSO: German public service workers clinch 5.5 percent pay raise

However, a separate collective agreement applies to the approximately 7,000 employees at local public transport companies throughout Bavaria, including Munich. 

Verdi, which is in its fifth round of collective bargaining with employers, is not only demanding higher wages but also better working conditions, including improved working hours.

The Bavarian Association of Municipal Employers has continued to reject their demands, and Verdi has threatened ongoing strikes throughout the southern state until a settlement is reached. 

Long-distance transport strikes

The local strikes in Bavaria come as transport union EVG holds a three-day-long meeting with Deutsche Bahn in Fulda, situated in the state of Hesse, over higher wages for its approximately 180,000 members nationwide. 

The union is negotiating the same demands with 50,000 members at dozens of other railway companies throughout Germany – including some smaller ones in Bavaria such as Bayerische Oberlandbahn (BOB) and Bayerische Regiobahn (BRB).

READ ALSO: Strikes: Deutsche Bahn to resume talks with Germany’s largest rail union

It has already brought rail traffic in Germany to a standstill twice in the past couple of months with nationwide warning strikes. 

An agreement with the state-owned Deutsche Bahn will probably also set the course for negotiations with the other companies. However, if no agreement is reached by the end of the day on Thursday, DB has threatened unlimited strikes throughout the country. 

The wave of strikes – at both large and small, and regional and national companies – comes as Germany is experiencing record-high inflation.

Inflation has cooled slightly in recent months but remained very high in April at 7.2 percent.