Germany thrown into transport chaos as rail workers strike over wages

German rail workers staged a four-hour stoppage but their union said it would now pursue talks with operator Deutsche Bahn to resolve a dispute over pay. Long-distance rail traffic came to a standstill and commuter and freight trains were disrupted.
Commuters line up in front of a Deutsche Bahn information counter during a rail workers' strike across the country due to a pay dispute with Deutsche Bahn, in Cologne, Germany, on Dec 10, 2018.
Commuters line up in front of a Deutsche Bahn information counter during a rail workers' strike across the country due to a pay dispute with Deutsche Bahn, in Cologne, Germany, on Dec 10, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

FRANKFURT (AFP) - Germany was plunged into transport chaos on Monday (Dec 10), as most train services were halted by a rail workers' strike over pay, affecting millions of passengers.

Inter-city and regional services as well as many urban commuter trains were cancelled throughout Europe's biggest economy by the four-hour stoppage from 5am local time (12pm Singapore time), railway company Deutsche Bahn said.

The strike halted all high-speed InterCity Express trains and other inter-city services as well as most cargo trains, and its ripple effects and delays were expected to continue well into the afternoon.

In the capital Berlin, where the entire public announcement system broke down as well, frustrated commuters were asked to switch from S-Bahn commuter trains operated by Deutsche Bahn to subways, buses or trams.

The strike came after talks broke down last Saturday between Deutsche Bahn and the EVG rail workers' union, which is demanding a 7.5 per cent salary rise for 160,000 employees.

"The employer made offers which did not correspond to the demands of our members," said EVG negotiator Regina Rusch-Ziemba.

Deutsche Bahn shot back and described the strike as a "completely unnecessary escalation", insisting that its offer was "attractive and met the main demands" of employees.

Deutsche Bahn had offered a pay rise of 5.1 per cent in two phases, with an option for staff to take extra time off instead, and a one-off payment of €500 (S$783), the DPA national news agency reported.

Deutsche Bahn in a tweet also denied it had broken off the negotiations, charging that "the EVG left the talks and went on strike".

"(Deutsche Bahn) remains ready to continue the negotiations at any time. There is an open invitation for today."

The strike also impacted Deutsche Bahn customer services offices, meaning that at many stations, passengers were left without information over loudspeakers or display boards.

Deutsche Bahn said that purchased tickets would remain valid until next Sunday or could be refunded and urged passengers to delay travel where possible.

It also called on the union - which threatened follow-up strikes if necessary - to return to the negotiating table quickly.

A Deutsche Bahn spokesman said: "Parties that negotiate must be prepared to make concessions. (Deutsche Bahn) has asked the EVG to continue the talks this afternoon."