Germany hit by rail, airport strikes plus additional unannounced strikes

By | March 8, 2024

Striking workers left Germany’s train stations and airports quiet on Thursday, as the travel plans of millions of people were thrown into chaos by parallel strikes in the transport sector, plus more unannounced strikes that took place unexpectedly.

That forced travelers within Germany to largely go by road, whether by car or bus, as large parts of the country’s long-distance and regional rail network came to a standstill.

Train drivers began a 35-hour strike on Thursday morning over pay increases, in industrial action that coincided with the start of a two-day strike by national airline Lufthansa’s ground staff.

The airline was expected to fly only 10% to 20% of its original schedule, and operations at its Frankfurt and Munich hubs were severely delayed.

Security staff at Düsseldorf airport then joined the wave of strikes without prior notice, the airport and the Verdi union said.

During the night, staff and cargo inspectors at Cologne-Bonn Airport also went on unannounced strike.

On the railways, Deutsche Bahn, the state’s national rail operator, warned that the strike would have “huge consequences” for operations, with only a fifth of long-distance trains operating on Thursday and Friday.

Regional services varied considerably depending on the part of the country. A freight transport strike had already started on Wednesday evening.

It was the fifth strike in the months-long pay dispute between the German Train Drivers’ Union (GDL) and Deutsche Bahn. The sticking point in the talks remains the GDL’s core demand for a reduction in weekly working hours for shift workers from 38 to 35 years, with full wage compensation.

Collapsed contract negotiations have plagued Germany for months with strikes, affecting everything from local buses, trams and subways to high-speed trains and the country’s largest airports.

At Lufthansa, the Verdi union, which represents about 25,000 airline ground staff, is demanding a pay increase of 12.5%, or at least 500 euros more per month. In addition, Verdi is aiming for a group-wide inflation compensation bonus of €3,000.

Lufthansa has so far offered 10% more pay and spread the inflation compensation bonus over a 28-month period.

Frankfurt Airport suffered a double blow on Thursday when not only Lufthansa ground crews but also security staff went on strike.

The airport operator said no one was allowed to come to the airport as no passengers would be able to enter the airport security zone due to the lack of staff at security checkpoints.

However, there would be takeoffs and landings, meaning that at least transit passengers could change planes and make their flights.

Security staff also went on strike at Hamburg airport. All 141 departures originally scheduled from there for Thursday had already been canceled by Tuesday evening.

Munich Airport said on Thursday that around 500 of its 800 flights would be cancelled, with a similar number of cancellations expected for Friday.

Both strikes were due to continue until Friday, with the rail strike ending at 1:00 pm (12:00 GMT). Lufthansa’s strike also runs until Friday.

The costs of the industrial action are rising, Lufthansa says. The ongoing airport staff strikes have cost the company around 100 million euros so far this year.

In addition, many customers have withheld their bookings, said financial director Remco Steenbergen on Thursday at the presentation of the group’s annual figures in Frankfurt.

Lufthansa’s head of human resources, Michael Niggemann, called on the unions to return to the negotiating table. Only there can solutions be found, he said.

However, more strikes could be on the horizon at Lufthansa, with cabin crew union members also voting in favor of strikes on Wednesday. However, they did not set a date.

The industrial action was criticized by the Association of Aviation Security Companies (BDLS).

“The unions are trying to paralyze the country, regardless of the economic impact. This is now happening at a new level: strikes without prior information to employers, airports and passengers. Obviously to cause the greatest possible damage to everyone involved.” This was said by BDLS President Alexander Borgschulze.

Eurowings boss Jens Bischof called for a political discussion on new rules for strikes in critical infrastructure, arguing that the right to strike in Germany is linked to a requirement of proportionality that “unions are now ignoring”.

“As if the reputation of a once thriving economic nation wasn’t already at stake, strikes are increasingly being staged as an entertainment play for the media — and abused accordingly,” he said in a post on LinkedIn.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck called for quick solutions. “My personal and political understanding has now really come to an end. I think a solution needs to be found quickly,” he said during a visit to Washington.

“Finding a solution means that everyone is now obliged not to let their interests come at the expense of the population, the economy and economic recovery.”

Strikers chase passengers during a Verdi rally at Berlin Brandenburg Airport.  With renewed warning strikes by various professional groups, the Verdi union will paralyze important parts of German air traffic on Thursday and Friday.  Sebastian Gollnow/dpa

Strikers chase passengers during a Verdi rally at Berlin Brandenburg Airport. With renewed warning strikes by various professional groups, the Verdi union will paralyze important parts of German air traffic on Thursday and Friday. Sebastian Gollnow/dpa

Strikers stand with a banner Strikers stand with a banner

Strikers stand with a banner reading “No more East-West fare differences” during a rally at Berlin Brandenburg Airport. With renewed warning strikes by various professional groups, the Verdi union will paralyze important parts of German air traffic on Thursday and Friday. Sebastian Gollnow/dpa

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *