BERLIN – Trains, planes and public transit systems stood still across much of Germany on Monday as labor unions called a major one-day strike over salaries in an effort to win inflation-busting raises for their members.
The 24-hour walkout — one of the biggest in decades — also affected cargo transport by rail and ship, as workers at the country's ports and waterways joined the strike.
Many commuters opted to drive to work, causing some delays on the roads, while those who could worked from home.
Unions are seeking a pay increase of at least 10.5% and have dismissed offers from employers of about 5% over two years plus one-off payments.
High inflation also seen elsewhere last year has hit many workers hard, said Ulrich Silberbach of the Civil Service Federation.
“We have recorded drops in real wages and these need to be balanced out,” he told reporters in Berlin, adding that some of his union's members in larger cities are having to apply for state benefits to afford rent.
Silberbach said that he hoped employers would increase their offer in upcoming talks — otherwise, unions might have to consider an open-ended strike.
His colleague Martin Burkert from the EVG rail union lamented that workers' pay is a fraction of what some top managers earn.
But rail company Deutsche Bahn called the union's demands exaggerated and warned that millions of commuters would be affected.
“Thousands of companies that normally send or receive their goods by rail will also suffer,” Deutsche Bahn spokesman Achim Strauss said. “The environment and the climate will also suffer in the end. Today's winners are the oil companies.”
Train tickets that couldn't be used because of the disruption will remain valid and travelers should check the company's website for updates, he said.
Three days of talks are scheduled between the two sides. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who represents the federal government in the negotiations, said her side would engage in the discussions in a “tough but also fair and constructive” fashion.
Faeser said she was confident that a good solution can be reached.
Labor strikes are a regular occurrence in Germany and normally end in a compromise deal between unions and employers.
The walkout already caused disruption and delays Sunday, as travelers scrambled to reach their destinations early.