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STRIKES

IN PICTURES: German workers down tools in unprecedented strike action

In a rare show of combined force, Germany's service-sector union Verdi teamed up with rail sector union EVG in a nationwide day of industrial action on Monday. Here's how the morning unfolded.

Empty station in Hannover
Hannover's Hauptbahnof stands empty of passengers on Sunday night. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

Though strikes are far from uncommon in Germany, Monday’s ‘mega strike’ – which paralysed bus and train services across the country – was an extraordinary move on the part of two unions. 

It came after months of public-sector walk-outs that had affected everything from Kitas and hospitals in Berlin to administration and air traffic in Munich. However, until March 27th, most strikes had been taking place on a more scattered and localised level – and Deutsche Bahn had generally stayed in service amid multiple local transport strikes.

This time around a coordinated effort between services union Verdi and rail union EVG means that both Deutsche Bahn and local transport are disrupted across the nation.

Pictures emerged early on Monday morning of train stations standing eerily empty ahead of the strike.

Halle Hauptbahnhof

An empty platform at Halle Hauptbahnhof. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hendrik Schmidt

Almost all long-distance and local train services were out of action on Monday thanks to the Deutsche Bahn walk-out, leading to extraordinary scenes like this one at Mainz Hauptbahnhof – a station that normally caters to around 60,000 passengers each day.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What to expect during Monday’s ‘mega strike’ in Germany

Mainz station during strike

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Halisch

However, some people pointed out that the communication from Germany’s state-owned rail operator wasn’t quite as clear as it could have been.

Tweeting from Berlin’s famous Zoologischer Garten station, journalist Jörn Hasselmann noticed misleading info on trains that weren’t supposed to be running.

“The @DB_Bahn manages to cause confusion even when there are no trains,” he wrote. “Apparently it is not that easy to switch off ALL the monitors.”

Aside from Deutsche Bahn services, a number of workers from regional transport operators also took part in the ‘mega strike’ on Monday.

These included workers from Transdev, AKN, Osthannoversche Eisenbahnen, erixx, vlexx, eurobahn, and the Länderbahn – meaning that local U-Bahn, bus and tram services in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony were all affected.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get compensation for delayed or cancelled trains in Germany

In Cologne, which has been wracked by industrial action in recent weeks, commuters were once again left short of options. 

Cologne local transport during strikes

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

And it wasn’t just people taking short-haul journeys that faced headaches on Monday morning: aviation workers were also taking part in Monday’s strike, leading to flight cancellations across the board.

A passenger checks the departures board at Munich Airport on Monday

A passenger checks the departures board at Munich Airport on Monday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

With passengers warned to stay away and rebook their flights, most airports remained all but empty on Monday.

A cleaner at Düsseldorf Airport on Monday.

A cleaner at Düsseldorf Airport on Monday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Reichwein

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

The major day of action was timed to coincide with the start of three-day negotiations between the services union Verdi and government employers over public-sector pay.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) was among the senior ministers taking part in the talks, which are aimed at resolving a fierce dispute over wages.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser Verdi

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) arrives at negotiations in Potsdam. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Koall

Shortly before the negotiations kicked off, Verdi tweeted images of demos taking place outside of Potsdam’s Congress Hotel.

One protester held a sign saying: “Soon to be working 24/7 – still can’t afford my rent”.

Verdi is negotiating on behalf of some 2.5 million public sector workers, including those in childcare, health, transport and local administration.

To help cope with inflation, the union is demanding 10.5 percent more pay or a minimum of €500 extra per month for workers. 

Workers Verdi strike Potsdam

Workers from various sectors gather at a demo outside the Congress Hotel in Potsdam. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Koall

Police workers strike Monday

Police bang a drum outside the Congress Hotel on Monday as part of a demonstration for higher wages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Koall

Social media was filled with messages of solidarity and support, with one commenter posting a graph depicting the real-term cut in pay that workers have suffered over the previous two years.

There were also demonstrations by rail union EVG members at train stations across the country.

EVG strike demo Duisburg

Demonstrators from the EVG rail union gather in front of Duisburg Hauptbahnhof on Monday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Reichwein

EVG is demanding a 12 percent pay rise for its workers to compensate for the spiralling cost of living.

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

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STUDENTS

Why could Germany’s €49 ticket threaten semester tickets for students?

A recent legal opinion suggests that Germany's €49 monthly ticket deal could jeopordise the future of the 'Semesterticket'.

Why could Germany’s €49 ticket threaten semester tickets for students?

Around three million students in Germany have a semester ticket – a special tariff which enables them to use local public transport at a fixed, low cost for a six-month period. The ticket operates on a so-called solidarity model, which means that all students are required to purchase it, regardless of whether they want to use it or not. 

Although the Semesterticket was considered a significant social achievement when it was first introduced in 1991, it has faced criticism and legal challenges over the years. Until now, these have been unsuccessful.

But the Deutschlandticket, which allows holders to use nationwide public transport for €49 per month, could pose a threat to the semester ticket model.

Why does the Deutschlandticket pose a problem for the Semesterticket?

A recent legal opinion commissioned by the Student Union (AStA) from the Technical University of Dortmund found that future lawsuits against the semester ticket model could be successful, because, in many cases, it is no longer significantly cheaper than other available transport options. 

READ ALSO: Who benefits the most (and least) from Germany’s new €49 ticket?

The opinion refers to an argument made by the Federal Administrative Court in an earlier legal case, which said that a solidarity model ticket should only offer a ticket that is significantly cheaper than all other public transport options.

The price for the Semesterticket varies depending on where you are in Germany. In Schweinfurt, in Franconia, the semester ticket currently costs less than €7 per month, but in larger cities like Berlin or Hamburg, it costs over €30, which is almost the same as the new “Deutschlandticket Jobticket” introduced for employees. In Cologne, Düsseldorf, or Aachen, the price for the semester ticket even exceeds €35.

The price difference compared to the €49 ticket could therefore be considered too small, especially considering that students can use it nationwide.

As a result, one university in Brandenburg has already withdrawn from the Semesterticket agreement with the Berlin-Brandenburg transport association (VBB), while a Berlin university has also suspended Semesterticket contracts from the winter semester onwards, and others are considering the same step.

Student representatives now fear that, if local transport authorities don’t make the €49 ticket cheaper for students, the Semesterticket model could be at risk of legal challenges.

“If the transport companies do not make the Semesterticket cheaper, we have to terminate the contracts,” David Wiegmann, the AStA chairman of TU Dortmund, told the German news site taz.

Matthias Anbuhl, the Chairman of the German National Association for Student Affairs, also said: “The solidarity model is a social achievement that is now in danger of collapsing.”

What solutions are being proposed?

The Conference of Transport Ministers (VMK), has formed a working group of representatives from the federal and state governments to develop proposals for a more affordable version of the €49 ticket targeting low-income groups like students.

READ ALSO: Germany’s most popular state plans discounted 49 ticket

According to the spokesperson for NRW Transport Minister Oliver Krischer (Greens), who currently leads the Conference of State Transport Ministers, their objective is to introduce a discounted model by the winter semester, though no concrete outcomes have been achieved so far.

One potential solution could be a nationwide semester ticket that is considerably cheaper than the €49 ticket. This alternative has already been given a name: the “Deutschlandticket Uni” (Germany Ticket for Universities).

But introducing this would require an agreement between the federal government and Germany’s 16 states, not only on the question of whether and how much funding they are willing to provide but also on reaching a consensus on the conditions. 

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