German workers just won against state-owned rail

  • Post last modified:March 26, 2024
  • Reading time:4 mins read

German trade union members in the rail industry have won a resounding victory against their employer Deutsche Bahn – getting it to reduce their working to to 35 hours WITHOUT a reduction in pay. It comes after months of industrial action across Germany‘s state-owned rail operator forced bosses’ hands – despite it taking legal action against workers.

Deutsche Bahn caves in – just

German state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn said on Tuesday 26 March it had agreed with the GDL union to shorten train drivers’ working week, ending a months-long row that caused strikes across the country.

From 2026, the standard working week will be gradually reduced from 38 hours to 35 hours by 2029 – crucially at full pay.

Train drivers will, however, have the option of working more if they want to, up to 40 hours per week, at 2.7% more salary per additional hour.

Deutsche Bahn’s human resources director Martin Seiler said:

“It was a difficult road, but in the end we were able to reach an intelligent compromise. Our colleagues can decide for themselves which weekly working hours suit them and their lifestyle best.

He called it a “modern” solution that would bring “flexibility” to the profession, at a time when Germany is grappling with a shortage of skilled labour.

Of course, Deutsche Bahn did not come quietly – taking legal action against the workers. As the GDL union noted:

While 29 competitors had no problems coming to an agreement with us quickly, the DB believed that it would once again have to fight the GDL with all means and at all levels. Instead of negotiating sensibly, the company also relied on disinformation, defamation and annoyance of customers in this round with the aim of discrediting us in the eyes of the public.

As part of the deal, workers will also receive a wage hike of €420 (£360) per month in two stages and a one-off payment of €2,850 (£2,440) to help compensate for inflation.

Cost of greed crisis

The agreement brings an end to a bitter dispute between the operator and the GDL union which led to six rounds of walkouts since November 2023, causing travel misery for thousands of passengers and disrupting freight traffic.

GDL boss Claus Weselsky said:

Against the strong and ultimately useless resistance of Deutsche Bahn, the GDL and its members succeeded in pushing through a reduction in working hours for shift workers and a 35-hour week without a reduction in pay for the future. With the collective agreement, we have achieved a historic breakthrough and are therefore setting an example for other unions in this country.

The union noted that:

The legal proceedings brought by DB against GDL – and lost – are evidence of the employer’s lack of willingness to reach an agreement for a long time.

The agreement will run until the end of 2025 and both sides have ruled out any further strike action for nearly two years.

Passengers seemed on the side of the workers throughout the dispute. Detlef Neuss, chairman of ProBahn passenger lobby group, said:

This is a huge relief for passengers… [but] you can’t get new staff without better working conditions.

Trouble on Germany’s horizon?

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has been affected by strikes across a wide range of sectors in recent months, including air travel, public transport, the civil service, and supermarkets.

Pinched by inflation following the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic, workers have been demanding higher wages to cope with shrinking purchasing power.

The strikes added to an already gloomy economic picture, with the German economy shrinking 0.3 percent in 2023.

A modest recovery is expected to get under way this year.

Deutsche Bahn, which made a net loss of €2.35bn in 2023, said last year’s walkouts alone cost it some €200m.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Unsplash 

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