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Nationwide train strike to disrupt travel in Germany

March 4, 2024

The strike in Germany will hit freight trains on Wednesday evening and passenger trains on Thursday morning. Negotiations over wages and working hours have broken down in recent days.

A train at Hamburg main station, with only a few people on the platform next to it. January 24, 2024.
Rail disruptions have been common in recent weeks and monthsImage: Bodo Marks/dpa/picture alliance

The GDL train drivers' trade union announced a 35-hour strike on Monday, saying the measure was unavoidable after the recent breakdown of negotiations on pay and hours

GDL boss Claus Weselsky said that the strike would begin on Wednesday evening for members driving freight trains, and for passenger train drivers in Germany from the early hours of Thursday morning. Passenger train drivers would then return to work at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Weselsky also warned that GDL planned to intensify its activity and that from now on it would no longer issue 48 hours' notice before downing tools. 

"We're starting a so-called strike wave," he said at a press conference. "With that, the railways will no longer be a reliable means of transportation." 

Head of German train drivers' union GDL Claus Weselsky gives a statement on its wage negotiations with national rail operator Deutsche Bahn in Berlin, Germany, March 4, 2024.
The GDL's Claus Weselsky announced the strike wave at a Berlin press conference Image: Lisi Niesner/REUTERS

What Deutsche Bahn said about the train strikes

Deutsche Bahn said it anticipated a "massive impact on operations" and criticized the union's approach to the deadlock.

The national rail operator's head of human resources Martin Seiler criticized the union's plans, calling rolling strikes "a sheer imposition for our passengers." He said GDL's response to not receiving its maximum demands was simply to strike repeatedly.

"That's stubborn and selfish. Many millions of people in our country cannot travel by train because the GDL leadership is unwilling to compromise," Seiler said responding to Thursday's announcement.

Germany: Getting around during a rail strike

A 35-hour strike for a 35-hour week

It's the fifth set of GDL strikes in a negotating process that has lasted months. Deutsche Bahn said that the union broke off the last round of negotiations last week after about four weeks

GDL boss Weselsky said that Deutsche Bahn was ultimately responsible for the strike. 

One key demand of the GDL that it says Deutsche Bahn will not meet is a reduction of employees' standard weekly hours from 38 to 35 with unchanged pay.

"This strike will last a total of 35 hours. Thirty-five hours, so that everybody in the country notices what it's about: namely a 35-hour week," Weselsky told reporters.

Deutsche Bahn argues not only that this is not economically feasible, but also that it would exacerbate existing staffing and recruitment shortfalls.

Public transport strikes in Germany

Labor disputes and strikes are causing problems for almost all kinds of commuters in Germany at present. 

GDL's strike announcement on Monday came just hours after the Verdi trade union called for Lufthansa airport ground staff to stop work for two days. The strikes will take place concurrently.

Local public transport like trams and buses will also be hit by strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.

The German central bank said last month that the strikes could negatively impact productivity, as it warned the country appeared likely to enter a technical recession by the end of the first quarter.

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msh/ab (dpa, Reuters)

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