Ocean container traffic through leading northwest Europe ports is facing massive disruption after German rail locomotive operators voted overwhelmingly Monday to approve strikes to press their demands for higher pay.
The members of the GDL union said that protests could begin Thursday with two- to three-hour stoppages of freight trains before extending to passenger trains.
National rail operator Deutsche Bahn said it rejected an ultimatum by the union to come up with a new pay offer by Tuesday night.
A strike will have a major impact on the main German ports of Hamburg and Bremen/Bremerhaven, which rely on trains to haul up to 25 percent of the containers moving to and from their terminals. The effects of a work stoppage would also hit the Port of Rotterdam, which is linked to the German rail network via a new cargo-only corridor, and Antwerp, which handles large volumes of container and conventional cargoes bound for Germany, Europe's biggest economy.
There is very little slack in the supply chain to re-route containers as European ports, already working close to capacity, gear up for the peak shipping season.
Deutsche Bahn, Europe's biggest rail freight operator, carries 1 million metric tons of freight on 4,780 trains every day. Around 170 daily international routes ? both freight and passenger ? face a shutdown.
To replace strikers, Deutsche Bahn plans to hire 8,000 civil service engineers who are legally barred from striking, as well as members of two larger rival unions who have agreed to a pay deal. It has also announced a fast-track training program for non-unionized engineers.