Passenger train drivers in Germany walked off the job on Wednesday and vowed not to return for six days in a strike over pay and working conditions that is expected to halt most long-distance and commuter train travel across the country. .

The strike, one of the largest in the national rail service in years, was announced Monday by Claus Weselsky, president of the GDL, a union representing German train drivers. Weselsky, in a brief news conference, said negotiations with rail bosses had broken down and accused the chief negotiator of the national rail company, Deutsche Bahn, of “deceit and deceit,” especially regarding the latest offer.

The rail strike, the fourth in two months, comes amid the risk of reduced funding for the rail system after a court decision that prevented the government from redirecting money from a coronavirus pandemic fund to green projects. It also comes amid a trend of worsening performance of German trains. More broadly, there is general discontent with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration, which is plagued by infighting and seen by some as oblivious to the problems facing ordinary Germans.

This time, the strike is scheduled for the weekend and will therefore affect more leisure travelers than previous strikes, which took place during the week and lasted no more than three days. Freight train drivers went on strike on Tuesday afternoon.

About 7.3 million people They travel on trains in Germany operated by Deutsche Bahn every day, and the number is growing as more travelers switch to rail amid concerns about climate change. Deutsche Bahn trains also carry approximately 600,000 tons of freight each day, according to federal data.

Deutsche Bahn tried to obtain an emergency court order ahead of a three-day strike this month, but a Frankfurt court ruled the union had the right to strike. The company said Monday it would not go back to court to try to force employees to return to work.

The most controversial issue in the labor dispute is the number of hours that drivers who work on a shift schedule must work. The union demands a 35-hour week, while Deutsche Bahn offers 37 hours a week. Currently, drivers work 38 hours a week. The union is also demanding a wage increase of 555 euros, or about $600, per month for all its workers, which is equivalent to an 18 percent increase over starting salaries. Deutsche Bahn’s latest offer, which the union rejected, would mean a raise of almost 13 percent for those workers who work the full 38-hour week.

Weselsky said his union was pushing for changes to make the job more attractive to young people.

On Monday, Volker Wissing, Germany’s transport minister, criticized the strike, saying the dispute over contracts was taking on an “increasingly destructive tone” and that he had “no sympathy” for the union.

“I don’t think Mr. Weselsky is doing himself or his union any favors with this style,” Wissing said.

As in many other European countries, in Germany trains are an important means of transport for a significant part of the population and offer both regular services between major cities and short journeys. However, the approximately 40,000 kilometers of railway tracks in Germany are overloaded and less than 65 percent of intercity trains ran on time last year, according to Deutsche Bahn’s own figures. Scholz’s government has promised to invest in rebuilding older lines, but that construction will take years to complete and the network is likely to deteriorate further in the meantime.

Two main unions represent railway workers in Germany. The largest, EVG, settled a dispute with Deutsche Bahn over wage increases to keep up with inflation last year. Those increases amounted to an increase of about 410 euros a month, or about $445, and a one-time tax-free bonus worth about $3,100. According to Christian Böttger, a professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin who studies rail transport, that agreement has meant that Deutsche Bahn is more willing to play hardball with the smaller GDL, to which most train drivers belong.

“When it comes to the real issues, the two sides are not that far apart,” said Professor Böttger, referring to GDL and Deutsche Bahn.

Markus Hecht, a rail transport expert at the Technical University of Berlin, said he was concerned that the six-day strike would harm Deutsche Bahn’s goal of attracting new passengers and freight, one of the government’s declared three-year climate goals. Scholz. coalition of parties. If the rail system were deemed unreliable, Professor Hecht said, commuters and businesses could look elsewhere for transportation.

“It will have a huge impact beyond those days,” Professor Hecht said. “It will also have long-term negative effects.”

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