Lufthansa pi­lots strike for 4th day, 137 flights can­celed

Flights to op­er­ate as sched­uled to­day

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Pi­lots at Lufthansa are stag­ing a fourth con­sec­u­tive day of strikes against the Ger­man air­line yes­ter­day, with chances of an im­me­di­ate res­o­lu­tion to the pay dis­pute look­ing slim af­ter their union re­jected a new of­fer from the com­pany.

The Cock­pit union tar­geted Lufthansa’s long­haul ser­vices, prompt­ing 137 flight can­cel­la­tions and af­fect­ing some 30,000 pas­sen­gers. That was fewer than on pre­vi­ous days, when Cock­pit mem­bers also hit short-haul flights. Cock­pit said that there will be no walk­out to­day and it will give at least 24 hours’ no­tice of any fur­ther strikes next week. Lufthansa said it ex­pects flights to op­er­ate largely as sched­uled to­day. How­ever, it cau­tioned that there will still be a few can­cel­la­tions as a re­sult of the pre­vi­ous days’ dis­rup­tion and urged pas­sen­gers to check the sta­tus of their flights on­line.

Cock­pit is seek­ing retroac­tive raises of 3.66 per­cent a year go­ing back 51/2 years. Lufthansa, which faces in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion from Gulf air­lines and Euro­pean bud­get carriers, says it can’t sat­isfy that de­mand. On Fri­day, Lufthansa of­fered to in­crease pay by 4.4 per­cent by mid2018, and make a one-time pay­ment equal to 1.8 monthly salaries in lieu of past raises.

It also of­fered to hire about 1,000 new pi­lots in the com­ing five years and seek third-party me­di­a­tion on other out­stand­ing is­sues. Cock­pit, how­ever, ar­gued that the pro­posal sim­ply re­it­er­ated one made over two months ago.

This week’s walk­out-the 14th since early 2014 — has al­ready grounded some 2,600 planes and af­fected more than 315,000 pas­sen­gers. Lufthansa has said the dis­rup­tion has started to hit medium-term book­ings. Pi­lots had been threat­en­ing to ex­tend the strike be­yond yes­ter­day, rais­ing con­cerns among in­vestors at the grow­ing cost to the com­pany and the wider im­pact on Europe’s largest econ­omy.

But the Vere­ini­gung Cock­pit pi­lots’ union said late on Fri­day it now had no plans for fur­ther strikes be­yond yes­ter­day. It did not rule out fur­ther ac­tion in fu­ture how­ever, but said that any strikes would be an­nounced 24 hours in ad­vance. The union dis­missed the air­line’s lat­est of­fer as a “pub­lic re­la­tions move” and said it was not new.

Lufthansa said ear­lier it had of­fered to in­crease wages by 4.4 per­cent in two in­stal­ments, as well as a one-off pay­ment equal to 1.8 months’ pay. The air­line also said it had of­fered to cre­ate 1,000 jobs for ju­nior pi­lots and up to 600 pi­lot trainee­ships over the next five years. It said it could en­ter me­di­a­tion talks with the union on Nov. 29.

In re­turn, pi­lots would have to agree to a change to their pen­sion scheme in which Lufthansa would only guar­an­tee paid-in con­tri­bu­tions. Cabin crew and ground staff have al­ready agreed to these changes. Bet­tina Volkens, head of hu­man re­sources at the air­line, said the changes would help the air­line save money.

The union wants an av­er­age an­nual pay in­crease of 3.7 per­cent for 5,400 pi­lots in Ger­many over a five-year pe­riod back­dated to 2012. Lufthansa says it has to cut costs to com­pete with leaner ri­vals such as Ryanair on short­haul routes and Emi­rates on long-haul flights, de­spite mak­ing a record profit in 2015.

Lufthansa pi­lots are well paid by in­dus­try stan­dards. A pi­lot at Lufthansa earns on av­er­age 180,000 eu­ros ($190,000) a year be­fore tax, though a cap­tain on the high­est pay level can earn as much as 22,000 eu­ros a month be­fore tax. Lufthansa had said ear­lier it would be forced to can­cel a fur­ther 137 flights on Satur­day, in­clud­ing 88 in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal flights, af­fect­ing some 30,000 trav­ellers. Some short- and medium-haul flights would also be af­fected, it said.

Pas­sen­gers at Frank­furt air­port on Fri­day were los­ing pa­tience. “It’s not pleas­ant,” said Lufthansa pas­sen­ger Di­eter Eidt who was booked on a flight to Rome and faced a lengthy de­lay.

“I be­lieve that they are de­mand­ing some­thing that can’t be ful­filled and which is un­jus­ti­fied,” Eidt said of the pi­lots. Lufthansa has put the cost of the stop­page at around 10 mil­lion eu­ros ($11 mil­lion) a day. How­ever, the air­line could take a longer-term hit if the strike prompts cus­tomers to shun Lufthansa and switch to ri­val air­lines.

Travel search firm Kayak said nine per­cent fewer vis­i­tors to its site on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day had opted for a Lufthansa flight com­pared to the pre­vi­ous week. “Many peo­ple are look­ing for al­ter­na­tives,” said Ju­lia StadlerDamisch, re­gional di­rec­tor at Kayak. But she said she did not ex­pect the air­line’s rep­u­ta­tion to suf­fer in the long run.

In­vestors were not so san­guine. Shares in Lufthansa, down more than 13 per­cent this year, slipped lower on Fri­day as in­vestors fret­ted over the prospect of stop­pages drag­ging on. “The name Lufthansa stands for safety, punc­tu­al­ity, re­li­a­bil­ity,” said Michael Gierse, a fund man­ager at Lufthansa share­holder Union In­vest­ment. “One has to won­der how much of the last two val­ues still re­main af­ter the strike.” — Agen­cies

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