Wages strike by Lufthansa staff grounds 1,755 flights

Services to Hong Kong cancelled as Germany's largest airline pushes efficiency programme

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 3:27am

Nearly 150,000 passengers were affected as Germany's largest airline Lufthansa suspended almost its entire service for a full day because of a pay strike.

The airline grounded a total of 1,755 flights yesterday, with those to European and domestic destinations the hardest hit.

Flights from Frankfurt and Munich to Hong Kong were cancelled. Frank Puttmann, director of Lufthansa Group Communications Asia Pacific, said: "We expect things to return to normal by Wednesday, but there were no flights to Hong Kong from Germany today."

He said flights out of Hong Kong to Germany would operate normally, because they would arrive after the strike is over.

There are three flights operated out of Hong Kong daily by the Lufthansa Group, two under Lufthansa, and one by its Swiss Air subsidiary. Swiss Air and Austrian Airlines, another subsidiary of the group, were not affected by the strike.

Workers decided to protest as Lufthansa, Europe's second largest airline, tries to push through its most ambitious efficiency programme ever to generate the money necessary to rejuvenate its ageing fleet.

The strike is the biggest disruption of air travel in Germany since April 2010, when the eruption of an Icelandic volcano grounded 100,000 flights in six days throughout Europe. The Ver.di union, representing about 33,000 Lufthansa staff - including catering, freight and maintenance personnel - is demanding a 5.2 per cent wage increase.

The union also wants an agreement to prevent job losses.

Puttmann said the deal that has been offered by Lufthansa included promises of job security for existing ground staff, but that the company was seeking longer and more flexible working hours from employees.

More negotiations are scheduled for the beginning of June. If they fail to break the deadlock, Ver.di will hold a vote on unlimited strikes, said the union's chief negotiator Christine Behle.

A half-day walkout on March 21 forced the airline to cancel more than 760 flights.

Lufthansa joins other airlines that have had to struggle with severe disruption caused by strikes in recent years.

The Australian carrier Qantas grounded its entire fleet in 2011 in a dispute with unions over a pay increase and promises on job security.

In Hong Kong last December, Cathay Pacific's unions threatened industrial action after the airline offered a pay rise of only two per cent to cabin crew. They had demanded five per cent.

The matter was resolved when the airline made concessions over working conditions, including increased rest time between red-eye flights and guarantees on the number of local crew on staff.

British Airways and its sister unit Iberia managed to operate large parts of their service despite a strike earlier this year.

The Madrid-based Iberia unit scrapped almost 40 per cent of its schedule during a five-day action over job cuts in February.