German Train Drivers to Stage Longest-Ever Strike

German train drivers are set to stage their longest-ever strike this week, with a six-day walkout planned by the GDL union. The strike, beginning on Wednesday for passenger services and Tuesday for cargo services, is in response to a dispute with rail operator Deutsche Bahn over pay and working hours.

This will be the fourth strike by the GDL since November, as the union seeks higher salaries to offset inflation and a reduced working week from 38 to 35 hours without a loss in wages. A previous three-day walkout this month caused significant travel disruptions, with 80 percent of long-distance trains canceled.

Deutsche Bahn accused the union of acting irresponsibly and stated that it would be the longest strike in the company’s history, surpassing a five-day strike in May 2015. The company had offered pay rises of up to 13 percent, a one-off inflation bonus, and the possibility of reduced working hours by one hour from 2026.

The GDL rejected Deutsche Bahn’s offer and called for the strike, citing the company’s lack of willingness to reach an agreement. Deutsche Bahn criticized the union’s decision, stating that it is exacerbating the conflict and acting irresponsibly.

The strike is expected to have a significant impact on German rail transport, with disruptions also affecting freight traffic, potentially dealing another blow to Germany’s struggling economy. Passengers who have already booked trips during the strike period will have the option to reschedule or delay their travel plans.

Transport Minister Volker Wissing expressed zero understanding for the strike and denounced the increasingly destructive nature of the talks between GDL and Deutsche Bahn. GDL chief Claus Weselsky stated that the union would only return to the negotiating table if Deutsche Bahn agreed to discuss all their demands, including a mandatory reduction in weekly working hours.

The demand for a 35-hour workweek, coupled with higher pay, is aimed at making the train driver profession more attractive to young people and addressing the persistent shortage of skilled workers.

Deutsche Bahn previously clashed with the EVG rail union, representing non-driver rail personnel, but reached an agreement in late August last year.