German Pilots' Union Strikes, Threatens Further Action

 - August 29, 2014, 10:36 AM
Pilots with Vereinigung Cockpit are shown on a previous 'Walkout for Safety.' Pilots flying for Germanwings struck for six hours on Friday. (Photo: Vereinigung Cockpit)

Unionized pilots with Lufthansa-owned low-fare carrier Germanwings staged a six-hour strike on Friday after negotiations between the airline and pilots over early retirement benefits broke down. The Vereinigung Cockpit union representing pilots with Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and Germanwings said it would continue planning industrial actions “until the point of agreement.”

The strike from 6 a.m. to noon Germany time disrupted the travel plans of thousands of people, as Cologne-based Germanwings cancelled 116 flights, Reuters reported. It coincided with the end of school holidays in Thuringia and Saxony, Lufthansa noted.

The pilots union, which conducted a three-day nationwide strike in April, wants to maintain the early retirement age of 55 with corresponding pay benefit. It argues that the dispute with Lufthansa is solely about the early retirement provision “which should continue in the future to enable a timely exit from the particular stresses of pilots’ professional life… Vereinigung Cockpit is fighting against the deep cuts in the provision of hard fought social benefits.”

For the disputed “transitional benefits,” Lufthansa proposes raising the early retirement age from 55 to 60 for younger employees, depending on length of service with the company. The longer employees have served with the carrier, the less they would be affected. Lufthansa said that it proposed in a letter earlier in the week to resume negotiations “primarily…to specify an orderly process and a timetable for further negotiations.” After talks broke down on August 28, the airline said that it was focused on limiting the impact of the Germanwings strike.

“We are very disappointed that we cannot avert strike action. The impression given is that the Vereinigung Cockpit pilots’ union had already decided to strike,” said Bettina Volkens, Deutsche Lufthansa chief officer for human resources and legal matters. “It is unrealistic to expect to reach agreement on a new model for sustainable transitional benefits in the course of a single day.”