Deutsche Lufthansa’s long-running pilot dispute reached new levels of bitterness as a failed bid to have a day-long strike declared illegal led a union to retaliate by extending the walkout by 24 hours.
Lufthansa canceled 876 flights on Wednesday, disrupting travel for 100,000 people, and could lose a similar number of services on Thursday after the Vereinigung Cockpit union’s late-night victory in Frankfurt’s labor court. The airline proclaimed the strike extension, announced close to midnight Tuesday, “incomprehensible” and said it will inflict “extensive damage.”
The walkouts over pay affect both short- and long-haul services operated by Lufthansa’s main brand, wiping out about 40 percent of the usual schedule. Premium flights such as Beijing-Frankfurt, Los Angeles-Munich and 10 out of 12 services from Frankfurt to London Heathrow are among those scrapped.
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While Lufthansa said it’s ready to resume negotiations at any time and repeated an offer of outside arbitration, Vereinigung Cockpit is unwilling to return to talks without an improved pay proposal. The union is seeking a 20 percent raise for the period spanning 2012 through 2017, or 3.7 percent a year. Lufthansa has offered 2.5 percent, or 0.38 percent annually, through 2018.
About 5,400 Lufthansa pilots, or about half the total, are covered by a collective labor agreement and therefore potentially on strike, excluding those at the carrier’s cargo unit. Flights at the group’s Swiss and Austrian divisions and the Eurowings discount brand are also operating normally.
The action is the latest in more than two years of clashes over pay, working conditions and Lufthansa’s moves to turn Eurowings into a fully fledged low-cost carrier. The company’s recourse to legal action proved especially incendiary given that a similar strategy undermined the last pilot strike in 2015, with the walkout, which was linked to the Eurowings transformation, rejected as an illegal effort to influence corporate strategy.
“What Lufthansa is doing is trying to censor the wage demands of the union,” Vereinigung Cockpit lawyer Martell Rotermundt told the Frankfurt court. Thomas Ubber, representing Lufthansa, said the airline could not just “pull a new offer out of the hat” and that the labor group’s demands involved wage discrimination in favor of older pilots.
Judge Martin Becker said the labor court is “not allowed to make a judgment call on the collective bargaining process, or a call if a wage demand is good or bad,” and ruled that the strike could go ahead. A subsequent appeal by Lufthansa to a higher court was dismissed.
Lufthansa said it’s still working on a flight plan for Thursday and that customers will be able to adjust bookings free of charge. The group’s operations will have suffered three straight days of disruption after a walkout by Eurowings flight attendants called by the Ver.di union led to the scrapping of at least 64 flights Tuesday at the unit’s Dusseldorf and Hamburg bases.
Strikes forced Lufthansa to cancel more than 16,000 flights in 2014 and 2015, burdening operating profit by €463 million.
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland