Rail drivers strike plunges travel in Germany into chaos

Railway Project

A two-day strike by German train drivers plunged travel in Europe’s biggest economy into chaos on Wednesday as passengers scrambled to find alternatives after the industrial action was declared only a day earlier.

The publicly owned German rail company Deutsche Bahn was forced to cancel 75 per cent of long-distance connections in the wake of the strike in a dispute over pay, including a pandemic bonus, and predicted further cancellations and delays to regional links.

“The first effects of the strike are being felt,” said German Train Drivers’ Union (GDL) head Claus Weselsky with his members walking off the job for the first time in six years.

Weselsky called on the company to make a new offer to help end the dispute with the industrial action coming in the middle of the nation’s annual summer vacation period. School holidays are currently being held in 11 of the nation’s 16 states.

While German carrier Lufthansa deployed larger aircraft to cope with the passenger rush, long-distance bus companies reported a surge in demand with the budget Flixbus group reporting a 70-per-cent jump in bookings compared with the previous week.

Deutsche Bahn personnel manager Martin Seiler criticized the strike as “completely inappropriate and excessive,”

However, Seiler indicated the company’s readiness to return to the negotiating table with the threat of the strike having been building up over months.
“Now it’s up to each other to decide together how we get out of this difficult crisis,” Seiler said.

“We also want our employees to be paid reasonably,” he said, adding that the rail company’s offer is reasonable.

The strike began on Tuesday evening as GDL members stopped running cargo trains. Cross-border services are also affected.

As the industrial action got under way, Deutsche Bahn issued a replacement timetable in a bid to cope with the passenger fallout from the strike.

Three out of four long-distance connections have already been cancelled with reports of rail personnel manning empty stations across the nation.

The labour action is due to end on Friday August 13 at 2 am (0000 GMT). Rail traffic is expected to resume largely without problems in time for the weekend, Deutsche Bahn said.

The strike by company’s train drivers was supported by 95 per cent of the GDL’s members, in a ballot that far exceeded the required approval of 75 per cent, Weselsky said on Tuesday.

He said that 70 per cent of the GDL members at Deutsche Bahn took part in the strike vote.

The GDL has rejected a zero wage increase and, instead, is demanding a coronavirus bonus and pay rises of 3.2 per cent during a 28-month period.

Deutsche Bahn, which has been hit by massive losses due to the coronavirus crisis and the cost of damages caused by July’s devastating floods in the western part of Germany, had wanted to delay the wage increases.

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