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German rail union rejects Bahn offer, threatens more strikes

May 31, 2023

A German railway and transport trade union says another strike is certain in the "short term," after rejecting the latest pay offer from Deutsche Bahn. DB says unions are so inflexible the talks have become "pointless."

Workers protest at Munich's main train station during a nationwide strike called by the German trade union Verdi over a wage dispute in Munich
In March, a nationwide strike had already brought DB to a virtual stillstandImage: Lukas Barth/REUTERS

German railway and transport workers' trade union the EVG on Wednesday said it would be calling another rail strike soon, having rejected the latest pay increase offer from national rail provider Deutsche Bahn late on Tuesday. 

"In the short term there will certainly be another warning strike," EVG negotiation co-leader Cosima Ingenschay said on Wednesday.

The union did not give a timeframe for another potential strike. 

"We will discuss this with our colleagues," chief negotiator Kristian Loroch said in Berlin on Wednesday, saying these talks would start soon. 

Loroch even said the union might even ask members to vote on the prospect of an open-ended strike.

So far, the EVG had been calling short-term so-called "warning strikes" — which do not require a vote of support from union members — a tactic that had drawn some criticism in its own right. 

Bahn says only one side showing flexibility

Earlier, state-owned operator DB said it would not make a new pay offer to resolve the dispute with the union.

This brings to a head the collective bargaining conflict for some 180,000 railway workers. The union had rejected the company's latest offer late on Tuesday and called for short-term negotiations on Wednesday. However, the rail operator then rejected further talks for the time being. 

"This is pointless at the moment because EVG is not moving a millimeter," said DB personnel director Martin Seiler on Tuesday evening. "The union makes no concessions and proposes no solutions. It is simply stubbornly insisting on its original demands. There is no point in making another offer."  

Passengers bearing the load amid impasse

The passenger association Pro Bahn, meanwhile, chided both sides for abandoning the talks and said that if they continued this course, it would be necessary to bring in an arbitration team to impose an agreement. 

"We are annoyed that the collective bargaining parties cannot reach an agreement," Andreas Schröder, a member of the national association of Pro Bahn, told newspaper the Rheinische Post, as part of an interview that will be published in  Thursday's print edition.

The fallout from the conflict should not be put "on the backs of passengers", as has happened in recent months, he said.

Schröder said the dispute risked alienating the very people using cars that politicians and public transport companies would like to convince to consider more environmentally-friendly options for their commutes. 

"There are people who should be using local public transport," Schröder said. "We can't afford to alienate these people, who we want to win over as public transport patrons, in these decisive moments." 

Germany has endured a series of strikes in the public sector in recent months, amid difficult wage negotiations in several industries during a period of high inflation, but airports and the rail network have been hit particularly hard. 

EVG says rejected offer was 'socially unjust'

The EVG argued that DB's latest offer did not meet essential demands. "What is currently on the table is socially unjust," Loroch said. He said it would mean a loss of wages in real terms for railway workers.  

Deutsche Bahn proposed what it said was a gradual 12% increase for the lowest paid, 10% for the middle and 8% for the higher paid group. The first part of the increase would be paid this year.

The EVG had demanded a fixed increase of at least 650 euros a month or of 12% — whichever is higher for the individual concerned — plus a guarantee of another renegotiation within one year. The union has rejected any one-off payments to compensate for recent inflation, saying salaries should be adjusted permanently instead.

Loroch said further negotiations were in the company's interest because "as long as the union is at the negotiating table, there will be no strike." EVG already called two strikes in the current dispute, bringing rail transport in Germany to a virtual standstill.

The union had also called a third, longer, 50-hour strike at short notice. However, it called this off at the last minute after reaching an agreement with the rail operator at a Frankfurt labor court — this had been the impetus for the latest round of talks and had raised some hopes of a resolution to the standoff, which appeared to have evaporated again on Wednesday.

los/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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