BERLIN, Oct 20 (Reuters) - A succession of strikes by German pilots and train drivers has left companies, politicians and travellers pushing for measures to curb the power of smaller unions in Europe’s largest economy.
Following a 50-hour strike by train drivers leaving millions stranded over the weekend, Lufthansa pilots followed up with their eighth strike action of the year on Monday and Tuesday, causing flight disruptions for hundreds of thousands of travellers.
It is not the first time that train drivers and pilots, represented by specialist unions, have held consecutive strikes over the last couple of months, and the patience of many Germans, who normally approve of strike action, is wearing thin.
“Now it’s got to a stage where I don’t have any understanding for the strikes,” Gerald Fischer told Reuters TV at Frankfurt airport. “The way the strikes are one minute on the trains and then on Lufthansa, it seems to me like they’re organising it that way on purpose.”
Lufthansa itself has described the strikes as turning a country famed for its efficiency and world-class exports into a “standstill nation”
“The continuing series of strikes shows that there is an urgent need to negotiate strike laws in Germany for companies that provide crucial transport infrastructure,” Lufthansa said in a statement.
A German government spokesman on Monday said Chancellor Angela Merkel saw the ongoing strikes as a good reason to push forward with plans to limit the power of smaller unions by law.
The proposed law would oblige companies to negotiate wage deals with only the largest trade unions and would mean that a settlement with the biggest union in a firm would apply to all workers in that company.
Vereinigung Cockpit for example represents around 5,400 pilots at Lufthansa. The entire Lufthansa group employs over 110,000 people.
At state-rail operator Deutsche Bahn, the GDL train drivers’ union is seeking a mandate to negotiate for train guards and other personnel in order to beef up its numbers. Deutsche Bahn has rejected this.
“ON ANOTHER PLANET”
The BDI industry association said the pilot strikes were not just hurting one company but the entire economy.
“It should not be allowed that one group of employees exploits their strategic importance to make the entire economy suffer,” said BDI managing director Dieter Schweer.
Influential tabloid Bild said Germany needed strong unions because it was a country where everyone should have a say in the decision-making process, but had harsh words for the pilots’ and train drivers’ unions.
“We do not need overpowerful union bosses that are on another planet and who take an entire country hostage just for their own individual interest,” Bild commentator Peter Tiede wrote.
However, the labour ministry warned that thoroughness would have to take precedence over speed when it comes to laws limiting the power of smaller unions because they were likely to be challenged in court.
Vereinigung Cockpit and doctors’ union Marburger Bund have already threatened to go to the constitutional court in Karlsruhe if necessary. (Editing by Mark Potter)