Court allows Lufthansa pilot strike, 1,000 flights scrapped today

A person passes by a barrier ribbon with the logo of German airline Lufthansa at the airport in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, as pilots of are on strike,
A person passes by a barrier ribbon with the logo of German airline Lufthansa at the airport in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, as pilots of are on strike, PHOTO: AFP

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (REUTERS) - Lufthansa failed in a legal bid to halt a pilot strike planned for Wednesday which has resulted in about 1,000 flights being cancelled, as the airline's dispute with crews escalated.

Pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) staged a strike on long-haul routes today and has called another walkout for Wednesday on short-haul flights - and it warned there could be more pain to come.

"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 forced the main Lufthansa brand to cancel 84 of about 170 long-haul flights on Tuesday and about 1,000 flights - or two-thirds of its schedule - on Wednesday, including another 52 long-haul flights.

It drew a defiant response from Germany's largest airline, which said it would not take on any new pilots under current German collective labour agreements, meaning its core Lufthansa, Germanwings and cargo divisions will shrink as staff leave.

Lufthansa's bid to stop the strike via a temporary injunction, however, was rejected by a Frankfurt court on Tuesday.

The airline, which is trying to cut costs to compete better 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 at the time.

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

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

The strikes have cost Lufthansa about 100 million euros (S$158.76 million) so far this year.

Pilots have offered concessions, including an 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 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 had already cost jobs and that strikes would not bring a resolution.