German train drivers began their longest strike on Wednesday in an industrial conflict that economists warn could cost thousands of passengers up to a billion euros ($1.1 billion).
Transport Minister Volker Wissing has slammed six days of industrial action as „devastating” that will pile further pressure on supply chains already strained by attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels on shipping through the Red Sea.
Deutsche Bahn spokeswoman Anja Broeker said the extended action was a „strike against the German economy,” adding that freight handled by the service includes materials for power plants and refineries.
„TB Cargo will do everything to protect the supply chain, but it is clear there will be some impact,” he added.
The walkout called by the GDL union is for passenger transport from 2:00 am (0100 GMT) on Wednesday until 1700 GMT on Monday, while the strike for freight trains began earlier on Tuesday.
A week after the last round of walkouts between January 10 and 12, not only long-distance trains but also some suburban services, such as those to Berlin, are operated by Deutsche Bahn.
The fourth strike since November has prompted travelers to rebook or cancel their plans, and prompted warnings of huge costs for government and industry at a time when the German economy is already weak.
Deutsche Bahn estimated that each strike day would cost „a low double-digit million figure”, but industry experts warned that the impact on the economy would be far greater.
Michael Gromling of Cologne's Economic Research Institute said the nationwide train stoppages could cost the economy up to 100 million euros a day, but warned that the impact „would not rise linearly over a strike lasting several days, but would be somewhat exponential”.
„Rough estimates suggest that in extreme cases, this strike could cost up to one billion euros,” he said, due to disruptions in sea freight transport caused by Houthi attacks and problems with road transport.
Vissing slammed the GDL union for refusing to negotiate during the walkout.
„I find it unfair to train passengers that trains are stopped at a time when no one is sitting at the negotiating table,” the transport minister said.
But the union said it had rejected Deutsche Bahn's „third and allegedly improved offer” because employers had „shown no sign of a willingness to reach an agreement.
The GDL is seeking higher wages to cover inflation, as well as a cut from 38 to 35 hours a week without loss of pay, arguing it should make train driver jobs „more attractive” to young people.
But Deutsche Bahn has sparked the latest round of industrial action that offered pay rises of up to 13 percent plus a one-time inflation bonus and the prospect of cutting the working week by one hour from 2026.
Deutsche Bahn clashed last year with the EVG rail union, which represents about 180,000 non-driver rail workers, reaching an agreement in late August.
The latest walkout broke the previous record of May 2015 action, also known as GDL, which lasted about five days.
Transport Minister Volker Wissing has slammed the six-day industrial action as „devastating”, piling further pressure on supply chains already facing disruption from attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels on shipping across the Red Sea.
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