German unions call for transport, shipping sector strikes on Monday

Airport workers protest at BER airport during a strike called by German trade union Verdi, in Berlin
Airport workers protest at BER airport during a strike called by the German trade union Verdi in Berlin, March 13, 2023. REUTERS/Christian Mang/File Photo
  • Strikes to disrupt air, railway traffic and shipping
  • Unions: wage offers insufficient

BERLIN, March 23 (Reuters) - Two German labour unions representing transport workers called for mass strikes next Monday that are expected to cause widespread disruption on railways and at airports, the latest travel chaos in Germany prompted by wage disputes.

The strikes, scheduled to start just after midnight and affect services throughout Monday, will be the latest in months of industrial action and protests that have hit major European economies as higher food and energy prices hit living standards.

The Verdi union is negotiating on behalf of around 2.5 million employees in the public sector, including in public transport and at airports. Railway and transport union EVG negotiates for around 230,000 employees at Deutsche Bahn (DBN.UL) and bus companies.

Verdi is demanding a 10.5% wage increase, with pay rising by at least 500 euros ($544) per month, while EVG is asking for a 12% raise or at least 650 euros more per month.

"We represent groups of workers who literally run this country and are paid far too badly to do so," Verdi Chairman Frank Werneke said.

Verdi has called on around 120,000 employees in the transport and infrastructure sectors, including ground and air traffic service providers, shipping, motorways and municipal ports, to join the strikes.

"The respective employers ... are trying to fob us off with warm words and inadequate offers. That is why we have decided to act as a united force," Werneke said.

Deutsche Bahn and other public employers are offering around a 5% wage increase on average, along with a one-off payment of up to 2,500 euros ($2,723), generally below inflation, which was 6.9% in 2022 and is expected to slightly ease to 6.6% this year.

"We don't want any further escalation. We want a negotiable offer," said Martin Burkert, the chairman of the EVG union, which represents workers at 50 transport companies, including railway operator Deutsche Bahn.

EVG said further strikes around the Easter holiday in April could not be ruled out.

Deutsche Bahn criticised the planned strikes as groundless and unnecessary, saying the management's offer was responsible.

"The EVG must face up to its responsibility and return to the negotiating table immediately," Deutsche Bahn personnel director Martin Seiler said in a statement.

The company said it expected massive disruption in railway travel across the country, adding it would soon update passengers on how travel would be affected.

German airport association ADV also condemned the strikes expected to hit around 380,000 air travellers on Monday as all airports across Germany, except Berlin, would come to a virtual standstill.

"The strikes announced for Monday go beyond any imaginable and justifiable level," ADV General Manager Ralph Beisel said, adding the strikes were an attempt to introduce French conditions in Germany.

France has been hit by a series of strikes and protests since January as anger has mounted over the government's attempt to raise the state pension age by two years to 64.

($1 = 0.9181 euros)

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa, Rene Wagner, Markus Wacket and Klaus Lauer Editing by Frances Kerry and Mark Potter

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