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New German strike round snarls rail, air traffic

By AFP - Mar 08,2024 - Last updated at Mar 08,2024

An empty platform is photographed during a train drivers strike near Frankfurt's main train station on Thursday (AFP photo)

BERLIN — Hundreds of thousands of passengers in Germany faced travel misery on Thursday as rail and airport workers staged new strikes to back demands for higher wages.

Europe's top economy has been troubled by industrial action for months as workers and management across numerous sectors wrestle over terms amid high inflation and weak business activity.

Work stoppages have hit transport, supermarkets and the civil service, among other areas of public life.

For the fifth time since November 2023, rail workers downed their tools, beginning a 35-hour strike on freight services at 17:00 GMT on Wednesday and on passenger services at 1:00 GMT on Thursday morning.

The length of the strike is intended to underline a key demand of the GDL train drivers' union to reduce the working week to 35 hours from 38.

Reinhard Ligocki, who finally arrived at Berlin's main station on a train from the Ruhr Valley, said that average Germans kept getting caught in the middle of an increasingly bitter conflict.

"Negotiators for the two sides shouldn't take out their long-running dispute on the passengers," he said.


'No longer reliable' 


Rail employees have been staging repeated strikes to demand a pay rise to help members manage the higher cost of living in light of inflation.

A walkout by train drivers in January caused travel disruption for thousands of passengers over several days.

That more limited walkout was the beginning of a "wave of strikes", GDL boss Claus Weselsky said this week.

Future action would be announced "when we think the time is right" and no longer 48 hours in advance as has been the case in the past, Weselsky said.

"Rail is no longer a reliable means of transport", with strikes due to drag on, he warned.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn has condemned the walkout, saying it has made concessions amounting to a 13-per cent pay increase.

Company spokesman Achim Stauss told public broadcaster ZDF that only about 20 per cent of its long-distance trains were running, with "big differences between regions".

Weselsky's hard line has come in for criticism, with Transport Minister Volker Wissing saying he was losing patience with the industrial action.

"Those who exercise their right to strike also have to take responsibility and that means negotiating constructively," he told ARD public television.


'Damaging' impact 


Meanwhile, Lufthansa ground staff held a nationwide strike from 3:00 GMT on Thursday due to last until 6:10 GMT Saturday. The company said it was only able to maintain about "10 to 20 per cent of the flight schedule".

Frankfurt, Germany's biggest aviation hub, would see "major disruptions and flight cancellations throughout the day", the airport said in a statement, adding it would be closed to all outbound passengers.

An unannounced strike by security staff at Duesseldorf airport triggered further chaos, with passengers stuck in massive queues and a rash of flights cancelled.

The Lufthansa strike is expected to cause further problems for the airline's services at other airports.

A previous one-day strike affected some 100,000 passengers, with between 80 and 90 per cent of flights grounded.

Workers' representatives and management have blamed each other for the travel disruption.

The Verdi union is seeking pay rises of 12.5 per cent for workers, a minimum of 500 euros ($542) more a month.

Lufthansa has offered pay increases over an extended period but not enough to meet Verdi's demands, the union has said.

The carrier reported record 2023 profits on Thursday but warned about the "damaging" impact of the wave of industrial action at the start of this year.

Following ground staff, cabin crews were expected to stage their own strike in the coming weeks after pay talks broke down on Wednesday.

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