Berlin/Munich — The German government is calling for urgent labour negotiations in an attempt to avert a planned nationwide transportation strike called for Monday.
Two major trade unions, Verdi and EVG, have called for a joint daylong strike that would affect railway services, public transit, waterways, ports and motorways across much of the country as well as every airport outside Berlin.
Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit noted on Friday that the right to strike is a fundamental right in Germany but called on the unions and transport employers to "find a viable solution that the effects of this strike are not too bad for the citizens of this country."
The EVG railway union is combining forces with the huge Verdi services union to push for increased pay for their respective memberships amid rising inflation.
The strikes could potentially paralyse transportation in much of the country. Scores of flights have been cancelled and public transit workers in eight states plan to walk off the job.
German national rail service Deutsche Bahn has warned that it may not even be able to run an emergency timetable for long-distance trains on strike day because of so many anticipated disruptions along the line.
Deutsche Bahn also warned of severe delays to freight traffic as trade leaders called for Germany to temporarily lift restrictions on Sunday driving for lorries.
"Of course, priority is given to trains that are of vital importance - I'm thinking primarily of energy transport to the power plants," a Deutsche Bahn spokesman said on Friday in Berlin. "But we can't promise that yet."
Logistics industry leaders warned in the Bild tabloid of looming "supply chaos."
The fallout from the strike is expected to cascade into neighbouring countries as well. Austrian rail service ÖBB warned on Friday that many cross-border trains would need to be cancelled and that delays could affect domestic service as well.
Travellers were already scrambling to find alternative means of transport, a dpa analysis on Friday found, with online searches for rental cars and long-distance bus tickets surging. Prices for tickets or rentals for Monday were also rising sharply in many instances.
Corporate representatives harshly criticized the unions for the joint strike, accusing labour leaders of acting irresponsibly in their push for wage increases.
"Anyone who acts like this is disproportionate and jeopardizes acceptance of the right to strike," the general manager of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA), Steffen Kampeter, told dpa.
But the leaders of the two unions defended their plans and appealed for understanding and support from the German public.
"No, we are not going too far," EVG union leader Martin Burkert told public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Friday, arguing that the unions were acting responsibly but had no other choice when faced with high inflation and tough negotiations over pay.
"It's definitely historic that we have the momentum at the same time that we are in difficult pay talks," Burkert said.
Verdi chairman Frank Werneke acknowledged that the day-long strikes would place a burden on a large share of the population. But Werneke said he hoped the strike would force employers to negotiate and avoid a protracted labour dispute.
"A labour struggle that has no impact is a toothless labour struggle," he said in an appearance on the Phoenix broadcaster on Friday.
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