Germany transport disrupted as bus, tram workers strike over pay, hours

Labour union Verdi has demanded improved working conditions, fewer hours and increased holiday entitlement.

A screen displays information regarding a nationwide strike
A screen displays information about a nationwide strike called by the German trade union Verdi, at Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany [Liesa Johannssen/Reuters]

Bus and tram stations across 80 cities in Germany are at a standstill as 90,000 public transport workers strike to press for improved working conditions.

The industrial action on Friday was called by the labour union Verdi in all 16 states except Bavaria. In the capital, Berlin, a shorter seven-hour strike was announced.

A strike by security staff at 11 German airports on Thursday affected 200,000 travellers and led to about 1,100 flight cancellations or delays, the German Airports Association said.

“Strikes will take place from the start to the end of operations, generally from 3am (02:00 GMT) on Friday to 3am (02:00 GMT) on Saturday,” said Andreas Schackert, federal head of the buses and railways group at Verdi.

Verdi said it is seeking improved working conditions, reduced working hours and increased holiday entitlement.

“We have a dramatic shortage of labour in public transport and incredible pressure on employees. Buses and trains are cancelled every day in all fare zones because there are not enough staff,” Christine Behle, Verdi deputy chairperson, said this week.

Wage negotiations for public transport have been taking place across Germany, and Verdi said it demands a one-time payment of 3,000 euros ($3,247) to adjust for inflation.

People wait at a subway platform
People wait at a subway platform during a strike called by the German trade union Verdi on February 2, 2024, at Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany [Liesa Johannssen/Reuters]

In Berlin, workers at the transit agency BVG are asking for more holiday time and longer breaks. While in other areas, like Brandenburg, workers are demanding pay increases of 20 percent.

Last week, train drivers walked off the job, bringing the national rail system to a near standstill for five days in Europe’s largest economy.

“Now we see that systematically these strikes become longer and more frequent, and then the economic costs are going to rise significantly, and this comes on the back of an economy that’s already weak,” Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research, told Al Jazeera.

“The German economy has been shrinking last year, is barely growing this year, so this strike comes at the wrong time for the German economy,” Fratzscher added.

The strike has the support of environmental groups, including the youth and climate movement Fridays for Future, which said 60 local branches supported the transport workers.

“Of course, as a climate movement, we can fight to ensure that climate targets in transport can be met and emissions finally fall,” Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer said during a visit to a Verdi picket line in Berlin.

“But that won’t work in the end if we ignore the conditions under which people work.”

Many commuters switched to cars or bikes to reach work on Friday.

Data from the Federal Statistics Office in 2022 showed that 40 percent of bus and tram drivers are over 55 and the average age of transport sector staff is significantly higher than for all employees in Germany, where 26 percent are over 55.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies