Lufthansa pilots vote overwhelmingly to strike

Ninety-seven percent of Lufthansa pilots voted to strike for better working conditions, transition contracts and pay. Lufthansa, the flag carrier of Germany, is the largest airline in Europe, both in terms of fleet size and passengers carried.

Vereinigung Cockpit, the union representing approximately 5,400 Lufthansa pilots, says it does not want to strike and has been negotiating very patiently. However, “our patience has run out,” Thomas von Sturm, the chief negotiator, said in a news conference.

Vereinigung Cockpit board member, Ilona Ritter, said they had not yet considered when the strike will take place. They would like to offer Lufthansa some time to come up with a new offer. She added there were no plans for industrial action over the Easter holiday period.

Ritter added “With immediate effect, Lufthansa can expect limited or unlimited strikes.”

There were serious disruptions in February when security staff at Frankfurt airport, Lufthansa’s home base, went on strike.

Lufthansa restructuring

A restructuring program, known as SCORE, is underway. The aim is to increase the carrier’s operating profit by €1.5 billion compared to 2011.

Pay and condition deals have already been signed with the unions representing cabin crew and ground staff. Pilots are the final group with which the Lufthansa management needs to reach an agreement.

Lufthansa pilots unhappy with ‘transition contracts’

The pilots are not happy with pay increases being offered and the transition contracts. Transition contracts are those awarded to personnel who retire before the official retirement age.

Following a European court ruling, pilots now retire at 65, which for Lufthansa meant an increase in age. Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) says a pilot’s job is very stressful, so they should be offered an early-retirement option. VC says most Lufthansa pilots retire at 59.

CV has complained about the changes to the previously agreed retirement benefits for flight staff. It is also demanding a 4.6% pay increase for May 2013 to April 2014, as well as a retroactive pay hike of 5.2% for March 2012 to April 2013.

In order to give passengers enough time to re-arrange their travel plans, VC said any industrial action would be carried out after 48 hours’ advanced notice.

Regarding the Easter timetable, Ritter said they would reconsider their plans “should Lufthansa challenge us.”

The German carrier’s management says it has no new offer and has not altered its position. A Lufthansa spokesperson urged everybody to return to the negotiating table.

However, a company spokesman said Lufthansa believes that with further negotiation an agreement can be found regarding retirement pension plans and transition contracts.

The spokesman said:

“We want to stress that all cabin personnel should have the option to retire early, but we need to talk about the underlying conditions under which this will happen in the future. (We are) very interested in having clarity as quickly as possible… The door is open.”

According to Reuters, Barclays’ analysts estimate that Lufthansa’s staff costs are between 10% and 15% higher than British Airways’, but 15% lower than Air France’s.