Will Germany’s wave of strikes stifle financial development? – DW – 03/14/2024 | EUROtoday

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In the center of Germany’s industrial panorama, labor disputes and development issues are casting a shadow over the nation’s financial outlook. At the forefront of the present tumultuous panorama is Jens Höngen, a seasoned 30-year-old locomotive driver with a decade-long tenure at Deutsche Bahn, the nation’s main railway operator.

Höngen’s journey inside state-owned Deutsche Bahn has been marked by each dedication and discontent. Despite his years of service, he has discovered himself at odds together with his employer, and has participated in a number of strikes in latest months.

“Striking isn’t fun,” Höngen informed DW, echoing the feelings of lots of his fellow employees. “There is less and less staff to operate more and more trains. The younger generation is not interested [in the job]. The working conditions are simply not attractive.”

The state of affairs is sure to worsen as lots of his colleagues will quickly retire.

Representing his colleagues within the Cologne department of the German Train Drivers’ Union (GDL), Höngen additionally attributes the present discontent to Deutsche Bahn’s relentless push for productiveness on the expense of its workforce.

A picture of train driver Jens Höngen
Train driver Jens Höngen loves his job, however hates his working situations.Image: Jens Höngen

Burden of shift work

Central to the difficulty is the grueling nature of shift work, a cornerstone of railway employment. Railway drivers like Höngen function underneath demanding schedules, typically logging way over the official 38-hour workweek — at instances as much as 55 hours every week.

“Sometimes we work six days in a row, sometimes five days with one day off, and then another five days,” Höngen stated, highlighting the toll it takes on his bodily and psychological well-being. The pressure is clear as an increasing number of colleagues “either succumb to burnout or opt for alternative career paths.”

The penalties lengthen past the office, impacting Höngen’s private life and aspirations. Shift work, he stated, is dictating his social life, relationship, and even issues about beginning a household: “When you bring a child into the world, it also means responsibility, and the job limits the time available.”

Like the GDL union, Högen is looking for a shorter 35-hour workweek, larger compensation, and 48-hours relaxation durations between lengthy shifts.

Public transport workers on strike with placards and flags
Public transport employees are additionally demanding higher pay and improved working situationsImage: Frank Hammerschmidt/dpa/picture-alliance

Labor disputes and a slowing German economic system

Höngen and his 40,000 colleagues organized inside the practice drivers’s union aren’t remoted of their struggles in Germany nowadays. Across the nation, labor unrest is on the rise, with strikes permeating numerous sectors, together with aviation, regional transportation and well being care.

The catalyst, as Höngen sees it, is the mounting financial strain “exacerbated by inflation.”

“You need to pinch and scrape, and all expenses have to be calculated more precisely. That wasn’t the case in the past,” he noticed, underscoring the widespread dissatisfaction amongst employees in Germany.

Yet amidst the backdrop of strikes and financial uncertainty, there are apprehensions in regards to the broader implications for Germany’s economic system.

Economist Moritz Schularik has just lately warned of the nation sliding deeper into disaster, changing into what he referred to as a “welfare museum.” And economist Clemens Fuest fears the present wave of extended labor disputes may “derail Germany’s path to recovery and erode its global competitiveness,” as he informed German public broadcaster ARD.

A train transporting new cars
The German economic system is not operating easily anymoreImage: Jochen Tack/image alliance

More strikes, much less productiveness?

The concern of labor productiveness additional complicates the narrative. While strikes undoubtedly incur financial prices, the impression on productiveness is topic to debate.

According to knowledge offered by the European Union Statistics Office, or Eurostat, labor productiveness in Europe witnessed a pointy decline within the closing quarter of final yr, fueling issues of a widening productiveness hole with the United States, the place productiveness rose.

Overall, someday of strike prices the German economic system about €100 million ($109 million), based on calculations by the German Institute of Economic Research (IW) in Cologne.

But Steffen Müller from the Leibniz University for Economic Research in Halle, Germany, cautions towards oversimplification, noting that hourly labor productiveness metrics paint a nuanced image.

“Labor productivity is ultimately the value added per unit. Since Americans generally work much more than Germans, it’s clear that the figures per employee there are higher,” he informed DW.

However, it is essential how a lot output per hour is produced, he added, and there hasn’t been a lot of a distinction between Germans and Americans for greater than 30 years.

German strikes hurting economic system and vacationers alike

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German rust and mud

But Müller additionally famous {that a} productiveness hole between Germany and the US has, certainly, opened up for the reason that COVID-19 pandemic and rising geopolitical tensions within the wake of the Ukraine warfare

“The German economy works like a well-oiled machine as long as things don’t change quickly. But currently, one crisis follows another, and we don’t handle that well,” he stated, noting that strikes would play a much less essential function for the economic system than structural issues, corresponding to excessive power costs, labor shortages and overburdening forms.

“In the end, GDP may rise a bit more weakly than without the strikes. However, it cannot be seriously calculated how much this affects the economy.”

But for Höngen and his fellow practice drivers, the query of productiveness has a totally totally different dimension.

“If working conditions remain the same, no one wants to work for the railways anymore. So when the number of retirees goes up over the next few years, the railway system is sure to collapse,” he stated, including that then productiveness points will not matter anymore.

This article was initially written in German.