German pilots strike, consider further labour action

Lufthansa takes long-running dispute to courts
By Peter Maushagen and Victoria Bryan / Reuters
||Last Updated: 09/08/2015

BERLIN (Reuters) — Germany's Lufthansa hit back at striking pilots on Tuesday, taking their long-running dispute to the courts and saying it would no longer hire new pilots under generous German labour contracts.

Pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) had warned Lufthansa that further action was possible after it forced the airline to cancel 84 of about 170 long-haul flights planned for Tuesday from Frankfurt, Munich and Duesseldorf. Hundreds more cancellations are expected when the strike continues on Wednesday.

"We cannot rule out further strikes this week," union spokesman Markus Wahl said at Frankfurt airport on Tuesday. "Strikes are possible in the following weeks as well."

The pilots' 13th strike inside 18 months drew a defiant response from Germany's largest airline, which filed for temporary injunctions against the strike and said it would not take on any new pilots under current German collective labour agreements.

That means that its core Lufthansa, Germanwings and cargo divisions will shrink as staff leave and aren't replaced.

The airline, which is trying to cut costs to better compete with budget rivals, is also suing the union over a strike at Lufthansa Cargo in April 2014, questioning the legality of the walkout because there was a valid pay deal in place at the time.

"We are determined ... The pilots are going about this the wrong way," a Lufthansa spokeswoman said earlier.

Relations between management and VC soured last week after the breakdown of talks aimed at resolving a dispute that initially centred on retirement benefits but has since escalated to encompass Lufthansa's plans to expand low-cost operations under its Eurowings brand.

Lufthansa added on Tuesday that it would in future discuss only pay and contract issues with the union, effectively shutting VC out of strategy issues.

The strikes have cost Lufthansa about 100 million euros ($112 million) so far this year.

Tuesday's action affects long-haul passenger and cargo flights out of Germany from 0600 GMT to 2159 GMT and a 24-hour walkout on Wednesday is targeting short-haul Lufthansa and Germanwings flights. Lufthansa will publish a list of Wednesday's cancellations later on Tuesday, though Germanwings said it did not expect any of its flights to be affected.

Pilots have offered concessions, including a proposed increase in the average retirement age to 60 and a commitment to look at ways to reduce costs to a level comparable with easyJet . But they have also demanded that the company stops moving jobs out of Germany as it seeks to expand low-cost operations.

Fellow union UFO, which represents cabin crew, also waded into the debate last week, saying the row has already cost jobs and that strikes will not bring a resolution.

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