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Germany loses 2 million days to industrial action

Germans will remember 2015 as a year of cancelled flights, empty kindergartens and undelivered mail. Now an economic think tank has confirmed: Germany had more days not worked last year than in the last two decades.

First it was the metalworkers who walked off the job, then came the kindergarten and nursery teachers. They were followed by pilots and cabin crew at Lufthansa, locomotive engineers at Deutsche Bahn and postal workers at Deutsche Post - not to mention the legions of workers from Amazon's warehouses across the country.

By the end of last year, 1.1 million employees in Germany had taken part in some form of strike or were locked out of their workplace, whether for a few hours or weeks on end. Overall, economists counted more than 2 million days not worked in 2015.

It was the highest amount of time lost to labor action since the mid-90s, according to an analysis from the Hans Böckler Foundation's Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), released on Thursday.

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Lufthansa cabin crews go on strike

Empty planes, empty trains

The report quantified something that had affected, and indeed inconvenienced, many Germans directly. With more than 2 million days lost to strikes or lock-outs, many parents struggled to find suitable accommodations for their children while loads of would-be passengers were stuck at train stations and airports.

Perhaps the work action with the most international visibility came when thousands of Lufthansa flights were cancelled as pilots refused to fly and cabin crews refused to work after negotiations over early retirement benefits and working conditions failed.

Deutschland Bahnstreik Berlin Hauptbahnhof

The Deutsche Bahn strikes, staged by the smaller of the rail operator's two unions, similarly left millions of commuters across Germany scrambling to find alternative means of transportation.

No record set

"It was an exceptional year," said Heiner Dribbusch, an expert on industrial relations at WSI. But he noted: "There weren't more strikes, but more attention paid."

Indeed, the impact that the transportation sector walk-offs had on broad swathes of the population belied their magnitude when juxtaposed with strikes by childcare or postal workers, which accounted for three-quarters of the 2 million days not worked in 2015.

Dribbusch also noted that while most of the days lost were due to industrial action in the services sector, the biggest contingent of strikers last year came from the metal industry. Many of these people, however, only striked for a few hours at a time.

But for all the pictures of empty kindergartens or lonely train platforms splashed across the front pages of newspapers or online, 2015 was actually not a record year for Germany in terms of days not worked.

"It is still a far cry from the 5.6 million working days lost in the course of the disputes over the 35-hour week in 1984," Dribbusch said.

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