Strikes Hobble German Railways, Airports as Disputes Mount

COLOGNE, Germany — Germany faced strikes on several fronts on Thursday, as train drivers and airport workers walked off the job, causing chaos for millions of travelers and adding to the country’s economic woes at a time of looming recession.

The strikes are the latest in a wave of industrial actions to hit Germany, where high inflation and staff bottlenecks have soured wage negotiations in key parts of the transport sector, including national rail, air travel and public transport.

Industry has warned about the costs of such strikes, after Europe’s largest economy contracted by 0.3% in 2023 and the government warned of a weaker-than-expected recovery.

A one-day nationwide rail strike costs around 100 million euros ($107 million) in economic output, Michael Groemling, head of economic affairs at IW Koeln, told Reuters during GDL’s last strike in late January.

Train drivers began a fifth round of strikes in a long-running dispute at 2 a.m. (0100 GMT), after a walkout in the cargo division started on Wednesday evening.

Also on strike were airline ground staff at Lufthansa LHAG.DE and security staff at some airports. These included Germany’s busiest Frankfurt hub, whose operator Fraport said 650 of Thursday’s 1,750 planned flights had been canceled.

The train drivers’ walkout, set to last until Friday afternoon, marks the beginning of a series of strikes planned by GDL as it pushes for reduced working hours at full pay.

“The motivation is high to follow through with the conditions that we have set as GDL members,” said train driver Philipp Grams at the picket line in Cologne.

Just one in five long-distance trains was running, rail operator Deutsche Bahn said, but passengers showed some understanding.

“I don’t like it much, but if it makes a difference, if people want to change something, why not?” said Katerina Stepanenko, standing on the platform at Cologne’s main station.

Deutsche Bahn has accused the union of refusing to compromise.

“The other side doesn’t budge a millimeter from its maximum position,” spokesperson Achim Stauss said.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck, however, said he had lost sympathy for the strikers.

“It must be possible to find a solution and not push your own interests so radically at the expense of other people; I no longer think that’s right,” he told broadcaster RTL/ntv.

The ADV airport association, meanwhile, warned that strikes in the aviation sector, which on Thursday took place in Hamburg, Duesseldorf and Frankfurt, were damaging Germany’s reputation as a center for business and tourism.

Lufthansa ground staff began a two-day strike on Thursday, and further woes were brewing for Germany’s flag carrier after cabin crews voted on Wednesday for industrial action, with the UFO union assessing the next steps.

Reporting its annual results, Lufthansa warned that strikes were a factor that would lead to a higher-than-expected operating loss in the first three months of 2024.

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