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Up to 30 percent more wages – Germany is threatened with the next strike

Even before the first round of negotiations in the collective bargaining conflict between Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the railway and transport union (EVG), there are signs of a rail strike in the coming weeks.

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Up to 30 percent more wages – Germany is threatened with the next strike

Even before the first round of negotiations in the collective bargaining conflict between Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the railway and transport union (EVG), there are signs of a rail strike in the coming weeks. Similar to the public service and the post office, the EVG calls for a significant increase in wages by twelve percent - but at least by 650 euros per month. Even before the negotiations begin in Fulda on Tuesday, there is already talk of the possibility of warning strikes after this first round.

In view of the high inflation, there is no time this year for talks lasting months, said EVG negotiator Cosima Ingenschay. The union is therefore demanding a concrete offer from the employer's side in the first negotiation, which the railways are said to not want to submit. One will look at how the talks are progressing and then decide "whether that makes a warning strike necessary," said Ingenschay.

The positions are far apart. In DB circles, it is calculated that the union's demand does not amount to twelve percent. Due to the high minimum amount of 650 euros, the percentage increase only applies to employees who earn more than 75,000 euros per year - but this is not the case for the majority of Deutsche Bahn employees. In the lower salary groups in particular, an increase of EUR 650 sometimes corresponds to an increase of more than 30 percent.

On average, an increase of 650 euros would correspond to a wage increase of 18 percent. In addition, the EVG makes further demands relating to the structure of the collective agreements and regional adjustments. All in all, the required increases and changes would add up to a volume of around 2.5 billion euros, according to railway circles.

EVG does not want to get involved with such calculations and in turn accuses Deutsche Bahn of cheating. There are still professional groups in the state-owned company whose wages are below the minimum wage, according to the table. In order to pay out the legally required minimum amount, they only worked with allowances. Employees who would only have received 10.80 euros per hour, for example, received an additional 1.20 euros in order to achieve an hourly wage of 12 euros.

Now there is a dispute about which basis should be used for a possible increase: 10.80 euros or 12 euros. The union is under pressure to get as high a deal as possible after settling for a relatively modest plus during the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the train drivers' union GDL competes with the EVG. Their collective bargaining agreement is still in effect, and should there be a rail strike, GDL boss Claus Weselsky would not be involved this time.

In railway circles, there is talk of “quite challenging collective bargaining”. Overall, one is aware that there is a legitimate interest in wage increases because of the sharp rise in prices. However, in the coming years, high investments in infrastructure will have to be made in order to modernize the rail network. One way to reach an agreement could be to use the tax-free inflation compensation premium of up to 3,000 euros, but this has not yet played a role in the claim.

In EVG circles it is said that there is an "extremely high pressure of expectations" because of inflation. Inflation also means that a short term is particularly important because it is difficult to predict how inflation will develop. The railway union is therefore demanding a term of only twelve months. There could be a compromise here, DB is said to be hoping for a longer term.

It is completely open how quickly warning strikes can occur after the first round of negotiations. The peace obligation ends on February 28. However, the EVG is not only negotiating with Deutsche Bahn, but also with numerous competing companies. These talks will extend over the next four weeks.

A walkout could only begin towards the end of March, when a first round of negotiations has been completed with all employers. A warning strike is also conceivable in the coming days if the talks with DB should prove to be completely wrong, it said.

It is unlikely that there will be a major strike that will paralyze large parts of rail traffic. The union would probably rely on an escalation strategy, so that initially strikes would only be hourly and only in certain areas such as freight transport.

In any case, the union is already combative before the negotiations begin: "Anyone who thinks they don't have to seriously deal with our demands provokes corresponding reactions," said Ingenschay. "We, on the other hand, would prefer to focus on a result-oriented dialogue."

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