These are painful times again for rail passengers: First, due to the onset of winter, there will be no trains in the greater Munich area for days. Now the German Locomotive Drivers’ Union (GDL) is again paralyzing large parts of long-distance, regional and freight transport with a warning strike. The strike in freight traffic began on Thursday evening at 6 p.m., as a railway spokesman confirmed.

Four hours later, passenger traffic was also to be on strike for 24 hours. The railway took the first long-distance connections out of service early on Thursday evening – this is the only way the company can guarantee that no one has to spend the night on the open route.

In long-distance transport, the railway wants to maintain around 20 percent of its offering during the warning strike. In regional transport the effects will be very different. In Bavaria, which is still affected by the snow chaos, almost nothing is likely to be possible. Passengers could be less affected, particularly in the north-west of the country, where the GDL is traditionally less represented.

Thursday also had good news for passengers when it comes to rail: The current warning strike is the last on the rails of the current year. GDL boss Claus Weselsky has ruled out further labor disputes up to and including January 7th. This ultimately brings about the long-awaited Christmas peace, which the railway had already demanded before the collective bargaining dispute began at the beginning of November. After that everything is possible again. The strikes in the new year would be “longer and more intense,” said Weselsky on Bayerischer Rundfunk.

Long backlog in freight transport expected

While passenger traffic will most likely return to normal on Saturday, the effects on freight traffic are likely to be felt beyond the weekend. In the days before the warning strike, hundreds of freight trains were backed up in Bavaria due to the heavy snowfall, the railway announced. The industrial dispute is likely to increase the chaos.

Not only Deutsche Bahn is affected by the warning strike, its competitor Transdev is also on strike by the GDL. The union has now declared both collective bargaining negotiations to have failed. The crux of the matter in both cases is the GDL’s demand for a reduction in weekly working hours for shift workers from 38 to 35 hours with full wage compensation. Employers have so far rejected this.

“In doing so, companies are not just ignoring the legitimate needs of their own employees,” Weselsky said on Wednesday. “They are also torpedoing the urgently needed measures to successfully recruit personnel and thus negligently putting the future of the most climate-friendly means of transport, the railway, at risk.”

With the industrial action, the GDL is putting the railway under pressure shortly before the so-called big timetable change this Sunday. This actually provides for numerous new long-distance and regional transport connections and an increase in the train fleet. But before new trains come on the rails, the railway must first reschedule numerous trains. From Thursday to Sunday, a different timetable applies every day due to the warning strike – constant stress for the employees in the control centers. By the time the new timetable starts, the impact of strikes on passenger transport will most likely no longer be an issue.

There is a risk of longer labor disputes in January

Union members are currently voting on indefinite strikes. The result is expected on December 19th. According to Weselsky’s own statements, he expects 90 percent approval. More than 75 percent are necessary if the GDL wants to call for such industrial action. The members must approve the measure because strikes can cost them money. The union’s strike pay usually only compensates for a portion of the wage and salary losses that employees may incur in labor disputes.

There is currently no apparent way out of the tariff crisis. It has been around two weeks since the GDL caused the negotiations with the railway to fail. Apparently there hasn’t been much conversation since then. The fronts have hardened, particularly when it comes to the issue of reducing working hours. In addition, the GDL wants to expand its sphere of influence and also conclude collective agreements at the railway for employees of the infrastructure subsidiary DB Netz. The railway rejects this and refers to the collective bargaining regulations that already exist there with the larger railway and transport union (EVG).