German train drivers start three-day strike to press for pay raise, reduced working hours

German train drivers start three-day strike to press for pay raise, reduced working hours


Walkout coincides with protests by farmers over withdrawal of subsidy

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BERLIN (Reuters) – German commuters face train cancellations across the country from Wednesday, as a three-day nationwide rail strike adds to travel chaos in Europe's largest economy, where ongoing farmers' protests have also snarled road traffic.

The GDL train drivers' union began its main strike in the early hours of Wednesday, following one by cargo train drivers who walked out on Tuesday evening.

The rail strikes will continue until Friday evening, forcing national rail operator Deutsche Bahn to run only stripped-back emergency timetables.

The company said the strike action would impact the travel plans of millions and encouraged people to cancel or postpone all non-essential travel.

The long-running row over pay and working hours has flared up again following a truce over Christmas.

GDL is demanding a reduction in working hours from 38 to 35 hours per week for shift workers, as well as a pay increase of 555 euros ($606.62) per month and a one-off inflation compensation bonus of 3,000 euros.

Deutsche Bahn has offered flexibility on working hours but refused to reduce them without a pay cut.

The nationwide rail strikes come on top of a growing economic headache faced by Germany this year, driven by weak macroeconomic data, high interest rates and mounting criticism of the coalition government.

This week's farmers' protests, sparked by anger over planned subsidy cuts, have piled further pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose government is trying to get its 2024 budget over the finish line.

The head of German farmers' association DBV vowed to ramp up protests on Wednesday, after convoys of tractors and trucks blocked roads across the country earlier this week.

"Too much is too much," DBV head Joachim Rukwied told broadcaster RTL/ntv on Tuesday, calling for the government to take the subsidy cuts off the table completely.