Lufthansa yesterday canceled about two-thirds of its flights after flight attendants walked off the job at airports around the country in an escalating battle with Germany’s largest airline, but signs emerged that the two sides may be prepared to return to the negotiating table.
The flight attendants, represented by the UFO union, walked off the job at midnight on Thursday in a 24-hour strike that analysts say could cost Lufthansa about 7 million euros (US$8.7 million).
The strike was the most extensive of three work stoppages over the past week after 13 months of contract negotiations broke down over differences in pay and union demands that the airline agree not to outsource jobs or employ temporary cabin crew employees.
The union is demanding a 5 percent pay raise for more than 18,000 cabin staff. Lufthansa is offering a 3.5 percent boost and is calling for a slight increase in working hours.
Union chairman Nicoley Baublies said at Frankfort airport early yesterday that he had talked on the phone with Lufthansa during the night, and that the two sides had agreed to call in a mediator to help them settle their dispute.
Baublies also said the union was not going to stage any more strikes immediately, saying they were calling a “pause for Lufthansa to think things over.”
“It seems that they have now realized we stand united, they have more or less waved the white flag, so we must now get back into talks,” he said.
Lufthansa spokesman Klaus Walther struck a more skeptical tone, describing the conversation as “unfortunately not effective.” Although he said there is a standing invitation to resume negotiations, he hinted that the airline was not prepared to give too much ground.
Limited walkouts on Tuesday at airports in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin followed the launch of the flight attendants’ strike campaign on Friday last week. The latest work stoppage will include major airports in Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart and affect long-haul destinations in the US and East Asia.
The impact of the strike will not be clear for hours because the walkout went into effect at an hour when commercial flights are severely restricted due to noise abatement regulations.
Lufthansa is trying to implement a far-reaching cost reduction program to cope with rising fuel prices, as well as vigorous competition from European discount carriers and the big Gulf airlines such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. The Gulf giants are challenging Lufthansa and other major European carriers especially in lucrative routes between Europe and East Asia.