Germany at a standstill as huge strike halts planes and trains



Airports and bus and train stations across Germany were at a standstill on Monday, causing disruption for millions of people during one of the largest walkouts in decades in Europe's biggest economy as soaring inflation stokes wage demands.

The 24-hour "warning" strikes called by the Verdi union and railway and transport union EVG were the latest in months of industrial action which has hit major European economies as higher food and energy prices dent living standards.

They kicked off three days of wage talks which could lead to further strikes if they fail to yield a compromise.

Employers have offered 5 percent more wages over a period of 27 months and a one-off payment of 2,500 euros (around $2,705) - proposals unions, which are calling for a double digit rise, call unacceptable amid inflation which reached 9.3 percent in February.

Verdi is demanding a 10.5 percent wage increase, which would see pay rising by at least 500 euros per month, while EVG is asking for a 12 percent raise or at least 650 euros per month.

Worsening chronic labor shortages give unions a strong negotiating hand, economists say. The walkout is the biggest in Germany, which has a long history of collective wage bargaining, since 1992, according to Verdi.

The Airports Association ADV estimated that 380,000 air passengers were affected by flight suspensions including at two of Germany's largest airports in Munich and Frankfurt.

Rail services were also cancelled by railway operator Deutsche Bahn. In Cologne, the lack of city trains prompted a dash for taxis.

"Millions of passengers who depend on buses and trains are suffering from this excessive, exaggerated strike," a Deutsche Bahn spokesperson said.

Verdi is negotiating on behalf of around 2.5 million employees in the public sector, including in public transport and at airports, while EVG negotiates for around 230,000 employees at Deutsche Bahn and bus companies.

EVG chairman Martin Burkert warned further strikes were possible, including over the Easter holiday period.

Commerzbank Chief Economist Joerg Kraemer said the economic impact of Monday's strike on Germany's 181-million-euro-a-day transport sector was limited so far but this could change if the strikes persisted.