German workers’ strike over pay is matter of survival, union boss tells Bild

By Klaus Lauer and Tom Sims

BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) -A top union boss in Germany justified a massive strike planned for Monday as a “matter of survival” for many thousands of people fighting for higher wages as inflation soars, according to an interview published in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The strike, Germany’s largest in decades, is expected to cause widespread disruption on railways and at airports in Europe’s largest economy.

It had already started at Munich Airport on Sunday, where the departures board showed multiple flight cancellations. The nation’s rail operator Deutsche Bahn condemned the plans and demanded that labour return to the negotiating table.

“The people are not only underpaid, they are hopelessly overworked,” Frank Werneke, head of the Verdi labour union, told Bild am Sonntag.

The strikes, scheduled to primarily start just after midnight and affect services throughout Monday, will be the latest in months of industrial action and protests that have hit major European economies as higher food and energy prices dent living standards.

The Verdi union is negotiating on behalf of around 2.5 million employees in the public sector, including in public transport and at airports. Railway and transport union EVG negotiates for around 230,000 employees at Deutsche Bahn and bus companies.

Verdi is demanding a 10.5% wage increase, which would see pay rising by at least 500 euros ($538) per month, while EVG is asking for a 12% raise or at least 650 euros more per month.

“The strike is necessary to make clear to employees that we will vehemently stand up for our demands,” Werneke was quoted as saying.

German consumer prices rose more than anticipated in February – up 9.3% from a year earlier – pointing to no let-up in stubborn cost pressures.

“It is a matter of survival for many thousands of employees to get a considerable pay rise,” he said.

Deutsche Bahn on Sunday said the strike was “completely excessive, groundless and unnecessary”.

($1 = 0.9295 euros)

(Reporting by Tom Sims and Klaus LauerEditing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Louise Heavens)