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Germany Braces for 3rd Nationwide Rail Strike This Year

Train traffic across Germany will again be paralyzed by a nationwide strike – the third such labor action the year – from Sunday evening until late Tuesday, the Railway and Transport Union (EVG) announced on Thursday.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) has already canceled all long-distance trains, but regional and freight traffic will also be affected.

The two previous warning strikes had only lasted for half a day. After the latest round of negotiations ended without an agreement in late April, the EVG union threatened longer walkouts.

“We are on strike for a total of 50 hours, significantly increasing the pressure because the employers are giving us no other choice,” the EVG’s Deputy Chairman Kristian Loroch said at Thursday’s strike call, criticizing discrimination against low-wage workers.

DB, on the other hand, stressed that it had agreed a demanded increase in addition to the minimum wage of 12 euros (13.08 U.S. dollars). “This insane strike is completely unjustified and utterly exaggerated,” DB’s Board Member for Human Resources Martin Seiler said in a statement, adding that “a solution is possible.”

Germany’s entire transport system, including the major airports, has been hit by repeated strikes in recent months.

On Monday, an agreement was reached for 5,000 employees in smaller rail and bus companies. In the current strike, the EVG is negotiating on behalf of around 230,000 employees from 50 different companies, of which DB makes up a large majority of 180,000.

The German rail operator is struggling with its outdated infrastructure due to a lack of investments over the last decades. According to the company, only 65.2 percent of all long-distance trains reached their destinations on time in 2022, down 10 percentage points year-on-year. By now, the extreme unpunctuality of German trains has become an internet meme.

Amid these troubles, DB has just paid out at least a triple-digit million euro amount in bonuses to 30,000 employees, including 3,800 managers, according to local media reports. “This self-service mentality must be ended once and for all,” Claus Weselsky, chairman of the German Locomotive Drivers’ Union, said, calling the bonuses a “reward for non-success.”

Some politicians are calling for the separation of the infrastructure division from the rest of DB’s business. “The separation of network and operations will have a positive effect on competition, as providers other than Deutsche Bahn will be able to use the rail network more than before,” Ulrich Lange of the conservative Christian Social Union party said.

The German government, however, only plans to restructure the divisions within DB. This reform is “an important prerequisite for more traffic on the railways – at the expense of road and air traffic,” Matthias Gastel, the Green Party’s railway policy spokesman, said. (1 euro = 1.09 U.S. dollar)

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