BERLIN: Transport staff across Germany are set to stage a major strike on Monday (Mar 27) to push for wage hikes in the face of brisk inflation, as passengers brace for serious disruptions.
Workers at airports, ports, railways, buses and metro lines throughout much of Europe’s top economy are expected to heed a call by the Verdi and EVG unions to the 24-hour walkout.
“A labour struggle that has no impact is toothless,” Verdi chief Frank Werneke told public broadcaster Phoenix.
He acknowledged that it would inflict pain on many commuters and holidaymakers, “but better one day of strain with the prospect of reaching a wage agreement than weeks of industrial action”.
To prevent supply gaps, Transport Minister Volker Wissing has ordered states to lift restrictions on truck deliveries Sunday, while asking airports to allow late-night takeoffs and landings “so stranded passengers can reach their destinations”.
Verdi represents about 2.5 million public sector employees, while EVG represents 230,000 workers on the railways and at bus companies.
The rare joint call for a strike in Germany marks an escalation of an increasingly ill-tempered dispute over a pay packet to blunt the impact of surging inflation.
Employers, mostly the state and public sector companies, have so far refused the demands, instead offering a rise of 5 per cent with two one-off payments of €1,000 (US$1,100) and €1,500, this year and next.
Verdi is demanding a rise of 10.5 per cent in monthly salaries, while EVG is seeking a 12 per cent rise for those it represents.
State-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB) has completely suspended all long-distance trains for the day and many regional and local connections will be at a standstill.
DB’s Martin Seiler, responsible for human resources on the company’s management board, described the nationwide strike as “groundless and unnecessary” and urged the unions to return to the negotiating table “immediately”.
The company expects the walkout to have a “massive impact” on its entire rail network and has pledged to inform its customers “as quickly and comprehensively as possible” about cancellations and delays.
The German airport association, which estimated about 380,000 air travellers would be affected, said the walkout “went beyond any imaginable and justifiable measure”.
Employers have accused labour representatives of contributing to a wage-price spiral that will only feed inflation, while unions say their members have been asked to bear the burden of the soaring cost of living.
“Petrol and food prices have risen, I’m feeling it in my wallet,” Timo Stau, 21, told AFP at a protest on Thursday in Berlin.
Like in many other countries, Germans are struggling with high inflation – it hit 8.7 per cent in February – after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent food and energy costs soaring.
The “mega-strike”, as local media have dubbed it, follows industrial action in recent months in several German sectors, from the postal service to airports and local transport.
A third round of salary negotiations for public-sector workers is due to begin on Monday.
Earlier in March, Bremen, Berlin, Hamburg and Hanover airports cancelled more than 350 flights after security staff walked out. Bus and metro staff in Frankfurt also staged a strike.
Some unions however have succeeded in winning big pay increases.
Postal workers won average monthly increases of 11.5 per cent earlier in March, and in November IG Metall, Germany’s biggest union, won hikes totalling 8.5 per cent for almost four million employees that it represents.
Although Monday’s walkout is set to create travel chaos, it pales in comparison to the industrial disputes rocking neighbouring France, where President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans have ignited voter anger.
Rubbish is gathering in the streets of Paris due to a rolling strike by garbage collectors, while blockades of oil refineries by striking workers are beginning to create fuel shortages around the country.