German unions call major nationwide transport strike for Monday

German unions called a major transport strike for Monday, March 27th as workers demand higher wages to cope with surging inflation, the latest industrial action in Europe's top economy.

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

Staff at airports, ports, the railways, buses and subways will walk out during the 24-hour strike, which will start at midnight in the early hours of Monday and last all day Monday, the Verdi and EVG unions announced on Thursday.

For the first time, the unions also want to shut down portions of Germany’s motorway, the Autobahn. This could technically possible via the federally owned Autobahn GmbH, whose staff will also participate in the action.

 “We think there will be extensive participation in the strike,” Verdi chief Frank Werneke told a press conference.

It follows a series of strikes in recent months in Germany in numerous areas, from the postal service to airports and local transport.

Like in many other countries, Germans are struggling with surging inflation after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent food and energy costs soaring.

Verdi represents some 2.5 million public sector employees, while EVG represents workers on the railways and at bus companies.

It is rare for unions to join forces to call a strike in Germany, and it follows a series of failed talks with employers in recent weeks.

Who and where in Germany will be most affected?

Strikes will occur in every state and city where Verdi and EVG have a strong nationwide presence, which is the case in most Bundesländer except Bremen and Hamburg.

In the cities and districts on strike, buses, trams and underground trains may no longer run. Express and school buses would also be affected, as well as the state-owned Deutsche Bahn and other railway companies.

Verdi is also calling for work stoppages at several airports and in public transport in the states of Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Bavaria. The motorway company Autobahn GmBH is also to go on strike, as well as the water and shipping administration.

In addition to Deutsche Bahn, the rail companies affected include Transdev, AKN, Osthannoversche Eisenbahnen, erixx, vlexx, eurobahn and Die Länderbahn, according to EVG.

A Deutsche Bahn ICE train travels along a railway line in the Hanover region.

A Deutsche Bahn ICE train travels along a railway line in the Hanover region. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

According to the unions, the warning strikes at airports concern, on one hand, the negotiations for public service workers, on the other hand local negotiations for ground handling workers as well as the nationwide negotiations for aviation security workers.

The ‘Mega-Strike’, as its dubbed in Germany, on March 27th could be a harbinger of another strike wave around the Easter holidays, which start on Thursday, April 6th this year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why travel chaos from transport strikes in Germany could get worse

What are the unions demanding?

The last wage agreement between Deutsche Bahn and EVG was concluded back in 2021, and this agreement is set to expire this year.

To replace it, the union is calling for a new agreement that includes a 12 percent pay increase for workers – amounting to at least €650 extra per month for senior employees and €325 more per month for junior employees. This could boost the pay packets of around 180,000 workers.

Meanwhile, Verdi has been engaged in tough negotiations for around 2.5 million workers in the pubic sector for several weeks.

They’re asking for a 10.5 percent pay increase amounting to at least €500 per month for employees in local administration, hospitals, local transport, waste disposal and other public-sector jobs. 

In the last round of negotiations in late February, employers offered a pay increase of five percent alongside inflation compensation bonuses totalling €2,500.

Verdi rejected this offer, describing it as “an insult” and “declaration of war” on its members. The next round of negotiations is set to take place between March 27th and 29th. 

“For the third round of negotiations, Verdi is now once again increasing the pressure on the employers to present a negotiable offer that meets the demands of the workers,” the union said in a press release Thursday.

Warning strikes in Munich

Public sector workers take part in demos during warning strikes in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Deutsche Bahn, meanwhile, criticised the strike action as “baseless and unnecessary”.

“The EVG must face up to its responsibility and return to the negotiating table immediately,” the company said in a press release put out on Thursday. “Our employees and passengers need a swift solution now, not a big warning strike. We have made a responsible offer and are ready to talk at any time.”

However, EVG remained defiant. 

“The railway companies, like the bus companies of Deutsche Bahn, are running out of employees. One reason for this is the poor pay,” said EVG chairman Martin Burkert in a statement on Thursday.

“Already today, bus and train connections are cancelled time and again because jobs are unfilled or colleagues have fallen ill due to the high workload.”

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

Part of an ongoing strike wave

In the past weeks and months, public sector workers all over Germany have been going on strike, leading to the closure of public institutions, as well as numerous transport cancellations and delays. Verdi estimates that 400,000 of its members nationwide have taken part in the actions.

A countrywide strike, however, is a rare event in Germany.

Local and long-distance transport, as well as airports all over Germany, were struck simultaneously more than 30 years ago in the course of a strike lasting several weeks.

During this tough industrial action in the public sector in spring 1992, several hundred thousand workers temporarily stopped work.

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Why are so many people becoming German citizens?

In 2022, approximately 168,500 foreign nationals were naturalised in Germany - the highest number of naturalisations recorded within a year since 2002. What's behind the increase?

Why are so many people becoming German citizens?

According to preliminary figures released by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) on Monday, the number of naturalisations in Germany in 2022 increased by around 37,000 – or 28 percent – compared to the previous year.

Syrians made up for almost a third of the increase, as a total of 48,300 Syrian nationals were naturalised. The high number of naturalisations among Syrians is linked to the influx of refugees between 2014 and 2016, who now increasingly meet the requirements for naturalisation, Destatis said.

The latest statistics suggest that around 580,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in Germany since 2011, with the majority arriving in 2015 and 2016. 

According to the statistics, the average age of Syrian naturalised citizens last year was 24.8, and two-thirds of new citizens were male. They had spent an average of 6.4 years in Germany prior to their naturalisation. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s population grows to 84.3 million amid record migration

Syrians also experienced by far the greatest increase in naturalisations compared to 2021 (plus 29,200), followed by Ukrainians (plus 3,700), Iraqi (plus 2,400) and Turkish (plus 2,000) nationals. According to the data, people with 171 different nationalities were naturalised.

A total of 5,600 Ukrainians were also naturalised in 2022 – an almost three-fold increase compared to the previous year (1,900). The naturalised Ukrainians were predominantly female (69 percent) and were, on average, 36.1 years old and had spent an average of 13.3 years in Germany before their naturalisation.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Almost one million Ukrainians fled to Germany in 2022

There was also a significant increase in naturalisations among Iraqi and Turkish nationals in 2022.

6,800 Iraqi nationals were naturalised after an average residency period of 9.5 years (+54 percent), while Turkish nationals accounted for 14,200 naturalisations after an average residency period of 24.2 years. Turkish nationals were thus the second-largest group among the naturalised individuals in 2022, following Syrians.

New record for fast-track citizenship

Under the current citizenship law, those who want to become German citizens after just six years of residence in Germany can do so if they can prove special integration achievements. These include, for example, exceptional language skills, educational or professional accomplishments, as well as civic engagement.

The number of early naturalisations based on special integration achievements reached a new record in 2022 with 23,100 cases, almost doubling compared to the previous year (12,400). Among them, Syrians accounted for the largest share, with 13,900 (60 percent) of fast-track naturalisations.

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Germany’s plans to shake up fast-track citizenship

Under the current government’s proposed reforms to citizenship laws, the residency period required to apply for fast-track citizenship will be cut down to just three years for those who can show “proof of particularly good academic, vocational or professional performance or of civic commitment” and C1 German language skills.

The new law will also make multiple citizenships possible. Under Germany’s current citizenship laws, it’s usually not possible to hold dual citizenship, except for nationals of other EU countries and in exceptional circumstances, such as for citizens of countries that prohibit their nationals from giving up their citizenship, or for particularly vulnerable foreign nationals. 

Why were naturalisations so high 20 years ago?

The Destatis data shows that the number of people becoming German citizens in 2022 is the highest it’s been for more than twenty years; the average annual number of naturalisations for the years 2000 to 2003 was 173,100.

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: What is the biggest problem foreigners face when applying for German citizenship?

The number of naturalisations rose significantly at the beginning of the new millennium in Germany after the law was amended in 2000 to lower the required period of continuous residence in Germany from 15 years to eight. The required period of residence for children and spouses of German nationals was also reduced. 

The coalition government’s proposals to change the current citizen law include cutting the standard period of residence needed to apply again from eight years to five years.

Given that the previous spike in naturalisations came from a cut in the number of residency years, it’s likely that the new law will also see a huge increase in foreign nationals applying to become German citizens.