UPDATE: German airports struck by travel chaos due to Friday strikes

For the third time in a month and the second time this week, the Verdi union has called for a walkout among ground staff at four German airports on Friday.

Numerous flights are shown as cancelled on a screen at Düsseldorf Airport. The Verdi trade union has called on its members to stage warning strikes at airports in North Rhine-Westphalia and in the public sector.
Numerous flights are shown as cancelled on a screen at Düsseldorf Airport. The Verdi trade union has called on its members to stage warning strikes at airports in North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

This time, airports in Cologne-Bonn, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, and Karlsruhe are experiencing travel chaos.

Passengers were told to expect delays and cancellations starting Friday morning at the four airports, when security and customs staff are expected to take part in the “warning strike.”

Flights taking off from five cities are affected – as Cologne and Bonn share an airport.

Stuttgart Airport has already cancelled all departures and arrivals for Friday, with regular operations due to resume Saturday. The airport is advising affected passengers to contact their airline directly and not come to the airport Friday.

As part of an agreement with the its workers’ union, Düsseldorf Airport is running a minimal, emergency service on Friday – so some flights will still go ahead, but will be severely disrupted. Many will still be cancelled altogether. Passengers are urged to check their flight’s status and to keep hand luggage to a minimum to speed up security screening – which will likely see severe delays. 

Cologne-Bonn, meanwhile, is expected to see cancellations and delays on both Friday and Saturday – due to how the shift schedules there work with the timing of the strike. Full service isn’t expected to resume there until Saturday afternoon. The airport says passengers should expect several cancellations, and to check directly with their airline to make any necessary alternative arrangements.

READ ALSO: What are your rights in Germany if a flight is delayed or cancelled?

The Verdi union, which called the strikes, is demanding a 10.5 percent pay rise – or an increase of at least €500 a month – for the public sector and aviation security employees it represents, to address rising cost of living.

Already this week, it brought air traffic going out of airports in Berlin, Hanover, Hamburg, and Bremen to a standstill. Only weeks ago, it staged walkouts at nine German airports, meaning that some of the affected airports this week have already seen their second strike in the space of a month.

The union’s warning strikes are being staged to put pressure on employers before the next round of collective bargaining on March 27th to 29th, following previous rounds that have broken down  – with the exception of a deal Deutsche Post recently struck with postal workers.

Verdi’s head in Baden-Württemberg, Hanna Binder, said of the strikes: “Without better working conditions, we will no longer find enough people willing to take up these jobs on ground crews.” These jobs are essential for air traffic safety in Germany, she added.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why are there so many strikes in Germany right now?

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Reader question: Will there be more strikes in Germany over Easter?

Public transport across Germany was largely paralysed on Monday as workers around the country went on strike for higher wages. Could we see a similar strike over the busy travel weekend of Easter?

Reader question: Will there be more strikes in Germany over Easter?

Following Monday’s ‘mega strike’ – an unprecedented nationwide strike which paralysed nearly all local and long-distance public transport in Germany – many are questioning whether the industrial action will extend into the upcoming Easter holidays and beyond. 

READ ALSO: Germany hit by major disruption as transport workers stage ‘mega strike’

Here’s what we know as of Tuesday.

When are Germany’s Easter holidays?

The official four-day Easter weekend begins on Friday, April 7th, with both Friday and Monday official nationwide public holidays. However, many people already head off for the holidays the day before on Gründonnerstag, which is also when a large number of workplaces give their employees a day off, and Kitas (daycares) and schools shut their doors.

Will there be any strikes over the long weekend?

On Tuesday, the German transport union EVG, who along with Verdi organised Monday’s strike, announced that it would not call for a mass worker walkout over the Easter holidays. 

“Since we do not want strike against travellers, but rather employers, we can announce that we will not be negotiating over Easter, and therefore we will not strike,” Kristian Loroch, head of EVG’s bargaining said in a statement. 

That means that train travel around Germany won’t be impacted, aside from usual packed and delayed trains typical of any busy travel period.

Verdi also announced it would put aside any strike actions over Ostern. “If the [current] negotiations don’t work out at all, we can think about it again,” said a district spokeswoman in Berlin. “Before Easter, however, a strike is not realistic.”

The third, three-day round of negotiations involving Verdi and civil servants association dbb are currently taking place in Potsdam and are set to stretch through Wednesday, March 29th. 

Verdi and dbb are calling for an increase in income of 10.5 percent, with a rise of at least €500.

A flag of the Verdi trade union flies during the warning strike in front of the Charite hospital in Berlin-Mitte on Monday.

A flag of the Verdi trade union flies during one of their warning strikes in front of the Charite hospital in Berlin-Mitte. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer KO 

However, this has been repeatedly rejected by municipal employers who have said it is not economically feasible.

Employers have so far offered a gradual five-percent increase over a two-year period, as well as €2,500 in one-off payments, which the unions have rejected as insufficient.

Amid failed bargaining talks over the past few months, Germany has been hit by a series of strikes, paralysing not only public transport, but also major airports and public institutions including Kitas (daycare), rubbish collection, and hospitals.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why are there so many strikes in Germany right now?

What happens if the unions don’t get what they want?

If the employees don’t reach a collective bargaining breakthrough by Wednesday, unlimited strikes – likely to start after the Easter holiday – are a real possibility.

According to dbb head Ulrich Silberbach: “If the negotiations do not lead to a result, then it will once again be very dark in Germany. Then we will have to enter into a nationwide, indefinite industrial action.”

Rather than transport and public institutions around the whole country shutting down all at once, however, this likely means that there would be a continued wave of strikes hitting various states and cities at different times.

Such an action has previously yielded quick results for striking workers. Deutsche Post workers voted in early March to go on an unlimited strike after their pay demands weren’t met. 

Just a few days later, however, it reached a wage deal with union Verdi in order to avoid unlimited industrial action.

Deutsche Post workers were then able to receive their desired wage increase of 11.5 percent, with 20 percent offered to the lowest paid workers.