Autumn strikes loom

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Tue 21st Sep, 2021

On Thursday, just as relief was spreading over the end of the rail strikes, Klaus-Dieter Hommel tried to counter with pithy remarks. The collective bargaining conflict at Deutsche Bahn has now "only really begun," said the head of the rail and transport union (EVG) angrily.

After three long rounds of strikes, Deutsche Bahn has reached an agreement with the GDL train drivers' union on a new collective bargaining agreement. But now the larger EVG is threatening strikes on its part. "We are preparing for negotiations, but also for measures up to and including industrial action," Hommel said. The union does not want to accept Deutsche Bahn's offer to simply adopt the GDL agreement, if only out of self-respect

The railroad is still a long way from a real wage peace. The outbidding competition between the two hostile rail unions threatens to continue. However, the question arises as to how the EVG is going to get more out of negotiations than the GDL, after it has been saying for months that Deutsche Bahn does not have the money for expensive wage agreements.

In addition, the EVG is now relatively isolated. For example, the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), to which the EVG belongs, helped initiate the mediation of Minister Presidents Daniel Günther (CDU) and Stephan Weil (SPD), which Klaus-Dieter Hommel lamented. However, this conflict has long been about more than just collective bargaining issues. The future of Deutsche Bahn AG is also being negotiated.

In 2020, the EVG voluntarily waived an attractive collective agreement in order to preserve the Group in its current form and now sees itself betrayed in several respects. Battered as it is, it is likely to become a staunch opponent of any rail reform after the Bundestag elections.

To understand this better, it helps to look back a little. In the spring of 2020, when Deutsche Bahn was rolling through the country with empty trains and hurtling toward a record deficit in the billions, the EVG concluded the so-called "Alliance for our Railways" with Deutsche Bahn and the German government.

The deal: The EVG forgoes salaries, the rail management sells this to the owner as a consolidation contribution, and in return the federal government gives the Group additional equity in the corona crisis. In this way, the EVG wanted to secure the jobs of all employees in the state-owned company, which has been in crisis for years. However, there was a crucial catch: the GDL was not involved in the agreement.

After DB personnel director Martin Seiler now enabled the GDL to reach a collective agreement with significantly better conditions after a long struggle, EVG boss Klaus-Dieter Hommel angrily announced that he would terminate the collective agreement concluded with Deutsche Bahn in 2020 by means of a special clause and declared the "alliance for our railroads" to be over.

Hommel, who surprisingly became EVG chairman in April 2020 after his predecessor Torsten Westphal resigned for personal reasons after less than six months, is facing a shambles. In the wage dispute with Deutsche Bahn, GDL boss Claus Weselsky has shown him up. In the DB subsidiaries DB Cargo, DB Fernverkehr and DB Regio, which are responsible for the driving business, the small locomotive drivers' union is now threatening to oust the EVG.

Moreover, Hommel's alliance also failed to stabilize the DB Group. So far, the railroad has hardly received any Corona aid from the federal government. "Of the promised eight billion euros, only 28 million euros have flowed so far," said Hommel, who is also deputy DB supervisory board chairman. By the end of 2021, Deutsche Bahn's mountain of debt is expected to have grown to 32 billion euros. This means that after the Bundestag elections, the focus will once again be on a radical reform of the state-owned company that Hommel and the alliance actually wanted to prevent: its breakup.

The Greens and the FDP want to radically downsize the state-owned company with more than 500 subsidiaries and transfer the rail network to a federally owned infrastructure company. The Liberals would then like to privatize Deutsche Bahn's driving business, while the Greens want to establish a federally owned limited liability company for this purpose.

The Greens in particular have been preparing for a takeover of the Ministry of Transport for years and have developed detailed concepts for the reform. After the end of the GDL strikes, the eco party therefore wants to finally discuss rail transport of the future again as quickly as possible.

Thus, the Greens publish this Tuesday five theses for the "rapid strengthening of the climate protector rail". The paper, which is available to Tagesspiegel Background, contains a number of classics: the Greens want to invest three billion euros a year in expanding the network in the future, create an infrastructure fund based on the Swiss model and reconnect cities such as Trier, Chemnitz and Heilbronn to long-distance transport.

On the other hand, Green Party rail expert Matthias Gastel only commented on the ongoing wage dispute at Deutsche Bahn when asked. Now that the EVG has concluded a collective agreement comparable to that of the GDL, the peacetime should be used "to find a common path between the three players involved in the Deutsche Bahn company," he said.

Sale of Schenker as a compromise?

However, it should also be clear to Gastel that, after last week's humiliations, the EVG is considering an escalation not only in the wage dispute but also in the dispute over the future of the railroad. It has been fighting against the separation of network and operations for more than a decade - with the support of the SPD. But in a possible three-party coalition after the Bundestag elections, the Greens and Liberals together may well demand concessions.

The sale of the Schenker freight forwarding subsidiary would be one possible compromise. Experts estimate that Deutsche Bahn stands to gain around ten to twelve billion euros from the sale. This would be a significant contribution to the consolidation of the Group. In addition, Deutsche Bahn AG would be 30 to 40 percent smaller in one fell swoop and thus less complex. Management would be able to concentrate more on its core business, rail transport in Germany and Europe. In addition, overhead would be significantly reduced. According to insiders, it currently causes 750 million to one billion euros more per year than in comparable companies.

But EVG also sees Schenker, the road logistics company, as an integral part of the rail group. And the union has considerable leverage. It organizes the employees in the signal boxes. This enables it to disrupt rail operations even more sensitively than the train drivers' union GDL.So the fall threatens to be uncomfortable. Only one person in the railroad environment is likely to be completely relaxed about this: Claus Weselsky. Under his leadership, the GDL once again came out explicitly in favor of a second rail reform in an alliance with passenger representatives and DB competitors a good month ago.

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