Deutsche Bahn's longest industrial dispute to date has also had an impact on travelers from Switzerland. Here you will find the most important questions and answers.
The German Locomotive Drivers' Union (GDL) wants to paralyze train traffic for six days from Tuesday night. This is perhaps the longest strike in Deutsche Bahn's history. These are the most important questions and answers:
What should train travelers expect?
Deutsche Bahn itself assumes that traffic will be significantly affected. It wants to run as many trains as possible with an emergency timetable. During the previous three strikes, about 80 percent of long-distance train trips were canceled and others were delayed. In the event of a six-day strike, it will be difficult for the railways to keep at least 20 percent of trains running, believes the head of the Pro-Bahn Passenger Association, Detlef Neus. Working employees must adhere to legally required rest periods.
Dramatic impacts on freight transportation are also expected. The strike began here on Tuesday at 6 pm. “If train drivers and train traffic managers go on strike, as was the case during the recent strike, we expect greater impacts,” the SBB wrote. It is currently difficult to estimate the effects; For joint freight transportation with Deutsche Bahn, it is necessary to expect a loss of 90% of traffic on the Mannheim-Chiasso route and vice versa.
What can Swiss train drivers do?
Anyone planning a train trip to Germany from Switzerland should know about the restrictions as soon as possible. Regarding the request, SBB wrote: “As part of a special goodwill gesture from Deutsche Bahn, travelers have the opportunity to postpone their flight and use the ticket sooner or later.” For this reason there have been relatively few cancellations of travel offers from SBB. IMPORTANT: All train travel offers affected by the strike on the outbound or return journey can be refunded or exchanged free of charge. This includes tickets that cannot be exchanged or refunded depending on the fare.
The group travel law applies to holidaymakers from Switzerland: “Customers who cannot take their train package holiday due to a railway strike will receive a refund,” Hotelplan wrote upon request. Anyone who has to stay in Germany longer due to the strike and thus incurs additional costs will have to bear these costs himself. According to the tour operator, some customers had to cancel their planned trip due to the strike, but Hotelplan did not reveal the exact number of bookings.
What harm does a strike cause?
A one-day strike costs Germany €100 million in economic output, according to estimates by the German employer-linked Institute of Economics (IW). With the strike continuing as it is now, the costs did not increase proportionately, but rather doubled. “We are rapidly approaching €1 billion in damage,” says Michael Groemling, a researcher at the IW Institute. Bigger problems arise when companies have to stop production because they run out of parts. To make matters worse, container ships are currently being rerouted following attacks by the Houthi militia in the Red Sea – they are taking a much longer route around the Cape of Good Hope.
Can the strike be stopped legally?
In the past, railways have sued over strikes with some success — for example last year, when they reached a settlement with the EVG rail union and the latter called off the strike. However, the latest lawsuit against GDL – relating to the three-day strike two weeks ago – failed before the labor court in the state of Hesse. In the face of this failure, the railway now wants to waive another urgent lawsuit because it believes the chances of success are low. But some lawyers see it differently.
According to the case law of the Federal Labor Court, a strike must be proportionate. Unfortunately, the court reinterpreted this principle 16 years ago and now holds that proportionality must be assessed primarily by the striking union, says labor lawyer Richard Jessen. “However, with a strike this long and with such severe damage to critical infrastructure, the strike is likely to be disproportionate and therefore illegal,” said Jessen, who is head of the Center on Labor Relations and Labor Law at Harvard University. University of Munich. Thus the lawsuit can be successful.
Even if the railways abandon such action this time, GDL must fear further legal action. The railway has already filed a lawsuit with the labor court of the state of Hesse: it accused GDL of violating applicable law by establishing its own Fairtrain cooperative, which is supposed to recruit train drivers and employ them on the railway. The GDL acts as a union and as an employer of train drivers at the same time, which is not permitted. Employment attorney Jessen also sees opportunities in this lawsuit.
If successful, this could result in GDL losing its right to conclude collective agreements. Then the agreements with the railways may become invalid, and the strikes that have already taken place will be withdrawn, and their legal basis withdrawn. This in turn means that GDL will have to prepare for claims for damage caused by the railways. Trade unionist Klaus Weselski and railway managers are likely to find themselves in court again.
What is actually being debated?
The biggest point of contention in collective bargaining so far is the reduction of weekly working hours from 38 to 35 hours for train drivers and other shift workers. The union wants to implement it with full wage compensation. After the initial refusal, the railway is now ready to negotiate. She is now also open to discussing a reduction in working hours with pay compensation, and 37 hours have been discussed so far. But there is still more scope, the railways pointed out. But that is not enough for the Union to resume dialogue.
There is another fierce struggle over the union's demand to negotiate a collective agreement not only for train drivers and traveling employees, but also for so-called infrastructure employees, for example for dispatchers. GDL wants this because it also wants to gain members in this area. The railways, in turn, argue that the union does not have representation in this part of the workforce, so it does not organize an adequate number of employees there, unlike rival union EVG. Therefore, collective bargaining in this sector with GDL is meaningless.
Can long train strikes generally be restricted?
There are repeated calls in Germany to limit strikes in critical infrastructure, which is important for the lives of millions of people. In addition to train travel, this also includes flights, power supplies and emergency services. These demands are likely to increase in light of the record strike. Recently, the CDU proposed new rules. Strikes on critical infrastructure should only be permitted if an action with independent arbitrators has previously failed. In addition, strikes should only be possible if 50 percent of all employees vote in favor. Depending on the precise definition of the rules, this would be difficult for the GDL to achieve: it represents only a few tens of thousands of the railway's roughly 200,000 employees and only organizes most members into a few of the 300 individual railway companies.
Munich labor lawyer Giessen believes it is legally possible to politically restrict strikes in critical infrastructure. This is conceivable despite the independence of collective bargaining protected by the Constitution. However, Transport Minister Volker Vissing rejected the opposition demands on Monday, saying: “The right to strike is one of the basic fundamental rights of our democracy, which always requires everyone to use it responsibly.”