German train drivers are starting a strike on Tuesday that threatens to slash regional and long-distance services across the country.
Hundreds of thousands of passengers have been warned to expect disruptions as services are taken down during the busy summer holiday period when more people are travelling.
The drivers want a 3.2 per cent salary increase and a one-time “coronavirus bonus” of €600 ($703) but so far the Deutsche Bahn (DB) rail service has rejected the demands, citing the loss of billions of euros during the pandemic.
Claus Weselsky, head of the GDL train drivers union, said 95 per cent voted in favour of a strike, far more than the required 75 per cent.
“That is more than we expected. The results shows very clearly the mood among Deutsche Bahn's personnel,” Mr Weselsky said.
The national strike will begin at 7pm local time on Tuesday and end at 2am on Friday, with the threat of more action already on the cards.
Future moves “will depend on what the employers' side will do or not do,” said Mr Weselsky.
DB has lost billions of euros since the start of the pandemic and recent floods destroyed or damaged numerous railway tracks.
“Just as people are travelling more again and using trains, GDL leaders are destroying the upswing that we urgently need given the huge damage from the coronavirus pandemic,” said Martin Seiler, DB's board member for human resources and legal affairs.
DB expects to have only about a quarter of its long-distance trains running on Wednesday and Thursday, with priority given to connections between Berlin and cities in the west, as well as the route between Hamburg and Frankfurt.
The company urged passengers to refrain from unnecessary travel and said it would lift coronavirus-related restrictions to allow every seat to be booked.
Many people in Germany take their summer holiday in August and travellers are rely heavily on trains.
Customers who have already bought tickets for the coming days when train travel will likely come to a standstill in Germany can request refunds.
The GDL union held nationwide strikes eight times in 2014 and 2015 to push through its demands.
The European Union’s competition watchdog approved €550 million in state aid for DB on Tuesday to help the company cover losses from the start of the pandemic in 2020.