Transport ‘mega-strike’ hits Germany


BERLIN: Transport staff across Germany staged a ma­jor strike on Monday to push for wage hikes in the face of brisk in­flation, bringing com­muter lines to a halt in many cities. Workers at airports, ports, rail­ways, buses and metro lines throughout much of Europe’s top econo­my heeded a call by the Verdi and EVG unions for the 24-hour walkout.

“A labour struggle that has no impact is tooth­less,” Verdi boss Frank Werneke told public broadcaster Phoenix. He acknowledged the stop­page would inflict pain on many commuters and holidaymakers, “but bet­ter one day of strain with the prospect of reaching a wage agreement than weeks of industrial ac­tion”. Berlin’s usually bustling central train station was mostly quiet on Monday morning, af­ter the national railway cancelled long-distance and regional links across the country.

Arrival and departure boards at Frankfurt air­port, the nation’s big­gest, and Munich airport showed rows of can­celled flights.

To prevent supply gaps, Transport Minis­ter Volker Wissing had ordered states to lift re­strictions on truck deliv­eries on Sunday, while asking airports to allow late-night takeoffs and landings “so stranded passengers can reach their destinations”.

Verdi represents around 2.5 million pub­lic sector employees, while EVG represents 230,000 workers on the railways and at bus com­panies. The rare joint strike marks an escala­tion of an increasingly ill-tempered dispute over a pay packet to blunt the impact of surg­ing inflation. Employ­ers, mostly the state and public sector companies, have so far refused the demands, instead offer­ing a rise of five percent with two one-off pay­ments of 1,000 ($1,100) and 1,500 euros, this year and next. Verdi is demanding a rise of 10.5 percent in monthly sala­ries, while EVG is seeking a 12-percent increase for those it represents.

Martin Seiler, head of human resources at state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn’s (DB), has described the nationwide strike as “groundless and unnecessary” and urged the unions to return to the negotiating table “immedi­ately”. The German airport association, which esti­mated about 380,000 air travellers would be af­fected, said the walkout “went beyond any imag­inable and justifiable measure”.

Employers have accused labour repre­sentatives of contributing to a wage-price spiral that will only feed inflation, while unions say their members have been asked to bear the burden of the soaring cost of living. “Petrol and food prices have risen. I’m feeling it in my wallet,” Timo Stau, 21, told AFP at a pro­test in Berlin on Thursday.__The Nation