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MAINZ, Germany — Millions of commuters were delayed as Germany's train network came to a near-standstill Wednesday after its engineers went on strike for a ninth time in less than a year — the latest labor dispute to hit a country renowned for its efficiency.
The privately-run Cologne Institute for Economic Research estimates that between 300,000 and 350,000 workdays were lost to strikes in Germany by mid-May. That would be more than double the number during all of 2014, when 156,000 strike days were registered.
Airline pilots, postal workers and childcare staff have all previously walked of the job since January in the nation that is widely considered to be Europe’s economic powerhouse. A strike by employees at a Berlin money courier earlier this month even left some ATMs running short on cash.
Hagen Lesch, an analyst at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, told NBC News that the recent uptick in labor disputes appeared to be a temporary phenomenon.
“We’re are not yet a strike republic,” he said, but also warned that German's "reliable" reputation abroad was potentially being put at risk.
The engineers and rail operator Deutsche Bahn are locked in dispute over issues including pay and working hours. The union launched an indefinite walkout on Wednesday.
Ford, the American car manufacturer which runs two plants in Germany, told NBC News that it is making every effort to reduce the impact of the current railway strike. In a written statement, Ford said that about 3,000 vehicles would have to be delivered by trucks and ships instead of the rail network.
Germany is usually known for relatively harmonious labor relations, but the impact of the current rail strike has alarmed politicians, business leaders and even other unions.
"To put it mildly, this is going too far," Reiner Hoffmann, the head of the union umbrella organization DGB, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. He questioned the train engineers union’s willingness to compromise.
Meanwhile, the German government is trying to tighten collective bargaining rules. A bill could pass as early this Friday that would limit strikes of a minority of a company’s employees, such as train engineers or airline pilots.