Warning strikes at the post office, in daycare centers and at airports - and soon at Deutsche Bahn too? At the start of collective bargaining for the approximately 180,000 employees on (today) Tuesday, concerns are growing about possible warning strikes with delays and train cancellations for commuters and rail travelers.
The EVG trade union and Deutsche Bahn as well as 50 other industry companies are negotiating new collective agreements in Fulda. A tough struggle with potential for escalation is expected. In view of inflation, the energy crisis and staff shortages, the EVG is demanding substantial increases in income and wants to see an offer from the group in the first round. It is unlikely that Deutsche Bahn will submit one.
What demands does the EVG make?
The railway and transport union wants to push through at least 650 euros for the around 180,000 employees. The lower income groups are to be strengthened disproportionately, which is why the union has opted for a demand with a fixed amount.
According to their own statements, the union wants to achieve an increase of twelve percent in the higher wages. The EVG demands 325 euros for the junior staff. The term should be twelve months. According to EVG estimates, a good 90 percent of employees would benefit more from an increase of 650 euros; the percentage requirement is only relevant for the top ten percent.
It is the highest percentage of demand so far by the railway and transport union and also by the two unions Transnet and GDBA, from whose merger the EVG 2010 emerged. As for Deutsche Bahn, it should also apply to all other companies for which the EVG negotiates.
How does the union justify its demands?
Historically high inflation and increased energy prices, which significantly reduce the income of employees, the consequences of the pandemic with mask controls and numerous cases of illness, increasing attacks on railway employees - from the EVG point of view, employees have to shoulder ever increasing burdens and have therefore earned a significant income supplement . Otherwise there is a risk of further employee migration, warned EVG collective bargaining board member Kristian Loroch recently in Fulda.
When it comes to skilled workers, you are headed for a "total catastrophe" - even though the railways actually want to gain 9,000 employees this year.
How did Deutsche Bahn react?
The railways recently also emphasized that they are expecting very difficult collective bargaining talks. The union had made 57 demands that meant an average of 25 percent more wages for the employees, according to sources in the group on Friday. In addition to more money, numerous structural issues were raised, such as higher and new classifications or an adjustment of regionalized collective agreements to the highest level. Overall, it is a highly complex catalog of demands.
On average, the wage demand alone means an increase of 18 percent, in some areas by more than 30 percent, according to DB circles. "We rely on negotiations, but our leeway is limited," long-distance transport board member Michael Peterson told the "Tagesspiegel" (Monday).
The non-federal railway companies had meanwhile responded to the demands with a call for moderation and played down the inflation argument, according to union circles. One sees oneself bound to contracts that do not provide for increases of this magnitude and that cannot be paid for. The union does not want to accept this - then the companies would have to approach the authorities and make them responsible, it said.
When could warning strikes happen?
The EVG has already made it clear when deciding on its collective bargaining demands that it is considering actions at an early stage. On Monday, too, she called on Deutsche Bahn again for an offer and for concrete talks about her demands in the first round. "It is our expectation that we will actually get into the content with an offer," said EVG negotiator Cosima Ingenschay.
"If that doesn't happen, then we'll take a look at how it looks at the other companies, and then we'll draw a line under it and just decide how we assess the situation, whether that makes a warning strike necessary or not, for example." , said Ingenschay. The EVG could also coordinate with the Verdi union, which is currently involved in collective bargaining for the approximately 2.5 million public sector employees at the federal and local levels.
What challenges does Deutsche Bahn face?
The federally owned company is transporting more and more people on a route network that has been neglected for many years - and is now very vulnerable. For passengers, this is currently most evident in punctuality, which was just 65 percent in long-distance transport in 2022. The need for rehabilitation is huge and should be addressed in the coming years with general renovations on particularly important routes - which will cost a lot of money.
The DB representatives will therefore foreseeably bet that personnel costs will not also skyrocket as a result of an excessively high wage agreement. From the trade union's point of view, however, personnel and infrastructure costs cannot be mixed up. The money for the renovation would come from other sources, such as the federal government.
It is clear that the railways must remain attractive for new employees given the shortage of skilled workers. "The employees did a great job, we got through the crisis well together. It's clear from our side that we also want to acknowledge that," said HR director Seiler in January. "We have to find a good balance between short-term recognition and what we can also achieve in the long term without burdening the mobility transition in any way."
Why does the EVG want to negotiate with so many companies at the same time and how is that supposed to work?
According to its own statements, the EVG wants to ensure uniform tariff conditions in the industry and also use the greater clout through the bundling of demands and negotiations. The companies, but also the passengers, are likely to feel this, not least in the event of possible industrial action.
The union expects the smaller rail companies to follow industry leader DB AG. "More is possible together" is the appropriate motto of the collective bargaining round. After the start with DB on February 28th, talks are to be held with each of the other around 50 industry companies - which will probably last until the end of March before the second round begins.
What about the second railway union, the GDL?
The train drivers' union, with its national chairman Claus Weselsky, will enter into collective bargaining negotiations with Deutsche Bahn in the fall. The GDL is significantly less represented within the DB than the EVG, but has always presented itself as very willing to strike in the past. GDL strikes have recently been publicly perceived as more effective and dramatic for passengers.
The reason: No train can run without a train driver. If the EVG decides to go on warning strikes, the impact could even be significantly higher, since depending on the extent, crucial items in the infrastructure, such as in a signal box, could be affected.