German train drivers begin longest strike ever

Henry

Train drivers in Germany will start their longest ever strike this week, a six-day strike, their union said on Monday. This is an escalation in the dispute with train operator Deutsche Bahn over salaries and working hours.

The strike by the GDL union will begin at 02:00 (0100 GMT) on Wednesday for passenger services and continue until 1700 GMT on Monday. For freight services, the strike already starts at 1700 GMT on Tuesday.

The state-owned Deutsche Bahn accuses the union of acting “absolutely irresponsibly”.

This is the fourth strike by GDL since November where the union is demanding higher salaries to compensate for inflation. They also demand that the working week be reduced from 38 to 35 hours without a drop in pay.

A three-day strike earlier this month has already caused chaos for thousands of passengers with 80% of long-distance trains unavailable.

GDL says it rejected Deutsche Bahn’s “third and supposedly improved offer” and decided to go ahead with a strike again, because the bosses “show no sign of willingness to reach an agreement”.

Deutsche Bahn says the new strike could be the longest in history since a strike of around five days in May 2015.

Deutsche Bahn condemns the renewed call for a strike and says that it has already offered salary increases of up to 13% and a one-off inflation bonus. The company also offered the union the chance to reduce the working week by one hour from 2026.

“The GDL is exacerbating the conflict,” said a spokesperson. “Anyone who does not come to the negotiating table with a new offer of up to 13% and the possibility of a 37-hour work week with the same salary is acting absolutely irresponsibly.”

‘No understanding’

The company said it expects this week’s strike to “once again have a massive impact” on German rail transport.

Passengers who have already made reservations to travel during the strike will have the option to advance or postpone their journeys.

The disruptions to freight transport are also likely to put further pressure on Germany’s struggling economy, which is already experiencing supply chain problems due to shipping delays due to tensions in the Red Sea.

Transport Minister Volker Wissing condemned the GDL’s latest announcement about the strike. He said he had “no understanding for this type of collective mediation” and condemned the “increasingly destructive nature” of the talks between GDL and Deutsche Bahn. “Claus Weselsky, head of GDL, is not doing himself or his union any favors with this style,” Wissing told broadcaster ZDF.

Weselsky, for his part, said the union would return to the negotiating table as soon as Deutsche Bahn agreed to “discuss all the points we demand, specifically a mandatory reduction in the weekly working hours”. “A 35-hour working week with a higher salary is necessary to make the position of train driver more attractive to younger people and to tackle the persistent shortage of skilled workers,” he said during a press conference.

Deutsche Bahn also clashed with the EVG union last year. This union represents approximately 180,000 staff (who are not train drivers). The two parties reached an agreement late in August.