During the last week many travelers in Germany felt trapped. On Friday Cockpit, the union representing pilots, called for a warning strike at Lufthansa, following which some 280 mostly European and Intra German fights were cancelled. On Saturday morning GDL, the union representing train drivers at Deutsche Bahn, followed with a similar action, which brought rail traffic to a temporary standstill. Meanwhile further strikes have happened and, if the unions are to be believed, more of the same can be expected in the next weeks, since the underlying disputes have not been resolved.
Strikes are not uncommon in Europe, but they have become more frequent in Germany especially in certain crucial industries such as air and rail traffic. This is due to a landmark decision by the Federal Labor Court in 2010, where the previous principle, that each entity may only have one collective bargaining agreement was abandoned on constitutional grounds. Since then numerous small unions representing only a fraction of employees in an entity have emerged . This especially happened in areas where a strike of a few employees can bring the whole business and even third parties to a standstill. Recent examples were air traffic controllers, baggage handlers and airfield workers, who were able to stop air traffic affecting even other parts of Europe. Damages were calculated to be in the double digit million Euros. Damage claims against unions or workers are -however-not possible in case of a lawful strike.
The German government (following a public uproar) was quick to announce plans for a new law reinstating the previous legal principle of “One Agreement per entity “. After constitutional experts pointed out that the right to create a union and call for industrial action is a guaranteed basic right that can´t easily be abandoned the back paddling started already. German governments, regardless of party affiliation, have traditionally been extremely shy to create any binding rules for industrial action. This field has been left to unions and employers associations, but especially been left to be decided by the Labor Courts.
Anyhow (and rightly) the legal discussion has now started whether and to what extent exemptions must be applied as far as basic needs of the economy are concerned. Thus it is common understanding that there are restrictions to strikes at hospitals, at fire brigades and similar institutions. Although there is certainly no comparable basic right for passengers to be transported in time the economic damages caused by such action e.g. in the traffic or communications sector are potentially enormous. It remains to be seen whether the current anger is short-lived again or politicians finally come up with new ideas.
Travelers are meanwhile well advised to be prepared for further travel restrictions and should carefully check their schedules and alternative plans in advance, when planning to travel to or through Germany.