Transport staff in Germany set to stage major strike over wage hikes


27th March 2023 – (Berlin) Transport staff across Germany are preparing for a major strike on Monday, 27th March, to demand wage hikes amidst increasing inflation. The Verdi and EVG unions have called for a 24-hour walkout, affecting workers at airports, ports, railways, buses, and metro lines throughout Europe’s top economy. Verdi chief Frank Werneke has stated that “a labour struggle that has no impact is toothless”. However, he acknowledged that the strike would cause pain to commuters and holidaymakers, but “better one day of strain with the prospect of reaching a wage agreement than weeks of industrial action”.

Verdi represents approximately 2.5 million public sector employees, while EVG represents 230,000 workers on the railways and at bus companies. The call for a strike in Germany is rare and marks an escalation of an increasingly ill-tempered dispute over a pay packet. Employers, mostly state and public sector companies, have so far refused demands, instead offering a 5% rise with two one-off payments of €1,000 (US$1,100) and €1,500 this year and next. Verdi is demanding a 10.5% rise in monthly salaries, while EVG is seeking a 12% increase for those it represents.

State-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB) has completely suspended all long-distance trains for the day, while 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 around 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. Like in many other countries, Germans are struggling with high inflation; it hit 8.7% 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 over 350 flights after security staff walked out, while bus and metro staff in Frankfurt also staged a strike. Postal workers won average monthly increases of 11.5% earlier in March, and in November, IG Metall, Germany’s biggest union, won hikes totaling 8.5% for almost four million employees that it represents.