This spring could be a test of patience for rail travelers and commuters: the EVG trade union and Deutsche Bahn as well as 50 other industry companies are struggling to come up with new collective agreements in Fulda starting this Tuesday (February 28).
Difficult negotiations become apparent even before the start. In the face of inflation, the energy crisis and staff shortages, the union insists on strong wage increases and is combative. She expects an offer from the employers in the first round of negotiations - otherwise the first warning strikes could come early.
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 12 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 10 percent or so.
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".
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. They wanted to see an offer from the employer at the start of each season, otherwise it would "go very quickly," Loroch said with a view to possible warning strikes. Actions in Easter travel after the first round of negotiations, which is expected to last until the end of March, could be considered. 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. At the same time, the company wants to remain attractive for new employees in view of 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?
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. At the start on February 28, your negotiators will meet with those of Deutsche Bahn, after which they will talk to each of the other around 50 industry companies - which will probably last until the end of March before the second round begins.
What does the EVG base its demands on?
With its tariff demands, the EVG is above those of the Verdi union, which demands 10.5 percent more money for employees in the public sector, but at least 500 euros more. For the approximately 160,000 Post employees, Verdi is also demanding 15 percent more wages and salaries in view of inflation. Verdi had already started a ballot here.
What about the second railway union, the GDL?
The union, with its federal chairman Claus Weselsky, will enter into collective bargaining negotiations with the railway company 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.