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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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Which transport routes will be affected by bus strikes in Hesse?

Bus routes will be disrupted in many cities in Hesse, due to strikes on Wednesday and Thursday. Here's where and when passengers will be affected.

Which transport routes will be affected by bus strikes in Hesse?

Passengers in the state of Hesse should expect all-day disruptions of bus travel on Wednesday and Thursday as Verdi trade union has announced state-wide warning strikes.

The trade union has called for bus drivers of several companies to take part in the strikes, which come just days ahead of an agreed arbitration, which is to start at the beginning of June.

When and where will passengers be affected?

According to Verdi, the warning strikes on Wednesday are to begin with the early shift from 3.30 am and last until the end of the late shift on Thursday night.

Thursday is also Corpus Christi, a public holiday in parts of Germany, including Hesse.

During these times, bus routes in Vellmar, Baunatal and Hofgeismar (all Kassel), Büdingen (Wetterau), Homberg (Efze) and Melsungen (both Schwalm-Eder), Offenbach, Fulda, Oberursel (Hochtaunus), Hanau, Gelnhausen, Bad Homburg and Weiterstadt (Darmstadt-Dieburg) will be affected. 

In the town of Giessen, the intercity buses will run whereas regional lines won’t.

Buses in Frankfurt will also be disrupted. However, U-bahn and S-Bahn trains as well as trams will continue as normal. 

In the major cities of Kassel and Darmstadt and in large parts of Wiesbaden, on the other hand, bus transport is expected to run normally. Most of the bus drivers in these regions are covered by other collective agreements.

Why are bus drivers striking again in Hesse?

Recently, just before and after the Whitsun (Pentecost) weekend, bus drivers in Hesse had gone on strike, which led to almost complete cancellations of bus services in many cities.

Following that strike, the bus companies involved negotiated with Verdi trade union, but failed to reach an agreement. Instead, a period of arbitration was triggered and scheduled for Friday, May 31st. 

According to reporting by regional outlet Hessenschau, no new strikes will take place during the arbitration period, since neutral parties will be hearing arguments from both sides and deciding on a conciliation recommendation. 

“We want to emphasise our demands again before the arbitration,” Verdi negotiator Jochen Koppel said, explaining the motive for Wednesday’s strike. 

Voices representing the bus companies have been critical of the strike. Chief negotiator of the State Association of Hessian Bus Companies (LHO), Volker Tuchan, said on Monday: “We find it very regrettable that public transport passengers are being affected again.”

On behalf of the bus drivers, Verdi is demanding wage increases as well as paid breaks. 

Verdi is reportedly demanding a salary increase of 8.5 percent each, delivered in two stages, for about 6,000 employees. In addition, they want €3,000 in inflation compensation bonuses for each employee and compensation during break times. 

The employers’ association LHO had rejected the demands as unfinanceable. The recent counter offer was a wage increase of 9.3 percent, delivered in three stages.

READ ALSO: ‘No family life’ –  A Berlin bus driver explains why public transport workers are striking