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Nationwide strike cripples German railway network at rush hour

The strike left millions stranded as railway and airport workers continue their monthslong demand for raises to keep up with higher living costs.

BERLIN (CN) — Millions of German commuters were forced to find alternative ways to reach work on Friday after a nationwide strike brought the country's railway network to a standstill.

EVG, a transport union representing 230,000 workers mainly from the railway industry, had already warned about the eight-hour strike, which started at 3 a.m. and ended at 11 a.m., hitting the morning rush hour on Germany’s busiest commuter day of the week. Railways were back up and running by late Friday afternoon, but travelers were warned that the walkouts would cause a “ripple effect” for the rest of the day. 

According to EVG, more than 15,000 rail workers joined Friday’s strike demanding a pay raise amid increasing living costs caused by the high inflation hitting Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine. The walkout is the latest in a wave of strikes hitting Europe’s strongest economy in recent months.  

The union is demanding a 12% pay rise over the next year for workers and a minimum pay of 650 euros ($710) per month for the lowest-paid workers. 

"Employers think they can ignore the demands of their employees and want to dictate collective bargaining from above. This is unacceptable," EVG representatives said.

State-owned Deutsche Bahn serves as the main operator of Germany’s railway system, and in this case the employer in conflict with workers. Achim Stauss, a spokesman for DB, told reporters in Berlin that “almost no trains” were running and that Friday’s strike was “unnecessary” as negotiations between both sides remain ongoing. Another spokesperson told DPA, a German newswire, that EVG was being unreasonable and just wanted conflict.

It's been less than a month since Germany saw its most extensive strike in 30 years, which crippled its travel infrastructure for a day in late March. That walkout was also co-organized by EVG. 

Verdi, a trade union representing around 2,5 million employees, joined the massive strike in late March. Its members organized walkouts in four German airports on Friday, starting with three on Thursday.  

Security staff at Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne/Bonn and Stuttgart airports left work, affecting 700 flights through Friday. Like the railway workers, they demand a raise amid the soaring cost of living.  

Over 900,000 passengers have been affected by strikes so far in 2023, having been forced to reschedule or cancel their flights due to Verdi strikes, according to German broadcaster DW

Passengers flying domestically had no hope of turning to trains on Friday. It is not believed that EVG’s strike was not coordinated with Verdi’s this time. 

Verdi said that if it did not reach a satisfying agreement with the German Federal Association of Aviation Security Companies, known as BDLS, during upcoming talks on April 27-28, airports would be hit by a series of strikes over the summer travel season. 

The union is demanding an increase of up to 120% extra pay for staff working on specific public holidays, 50% extra for Saturday shifts and 30-40% overtime pay for night shifts. 

Despite falling from its peak of 8,8% in October 2022, inflation in Germany is still standing high at a 7,4% annual rate in March. 

Negotiations between DB and EVG will resume next Tuesday. They have been ongoing since February.

Follow @LasseSrensen13
Categories / Business, Employment, International

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