German Aviation Hit Hard by Strike Actions

Last week, the German union Verdi disrupted aviation with strike action, demanding higher wages for their ground handling personnel in cargo and passenger services at airports. Now the Lufthansa pilots’ union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) has announced a three day strike, beginning this Wednesday and ending at Friday midnight. The impact on Lufthansa’s passenger and cargo biz will presumably be disastrous, including damage to its reputation.

Quite a number of LH Cargo shipments will stay on the ground this week, as impact of the pilot strike  /  source: LH Cargo
Quite a number of LH Cargo shipments will stay on the ground this week, as impact of the pilot strike / source: LH Cargo

Due to Verdi’s walkout on Wednesday of last week, almost 500 planned and scheduled flights had to be cancelled, crippling air traffic not only at Rhine-Main but in Munich, Hamburg, Cologne as well as several other airports. Passengers were stranded, cargo shipments, most of them bound for intercontinental destinations, had to be held back in warehouses.

Forwarding agents reroute their shipments
This week things will become even much worse, due to the strike action announced by Lufthansa’s pilots. According to a release issued by the airline, 3,800 flights have to be cancelled, affecting 425,000 passengers and masses of cargo shipments.  “I better have my consignments flown by other carriers instead of handing them over to Lufthansa,” announced a major forwarding agent when asked by CargoForwarder Global about his firm’s reaction. Presumably, he won’t be the only one opting for alternative modes of uplifts this week. Similarly, tens of thousands of travellers originally booked on LH will try catching another flight to circumvent the walkout of the small but influential VC union.

Asked about cancellations of freighter flights LH Cargo's speaker Michael Goentgens said that 13 out of a total flights of 32 will be operated according to schedule by his airline between Wednesday and Friday this week. "We are hurt by this strike but managed to prevent the worst," Michael stated when asked by CargoForwarder Global.


Defending privileges
The labour dispute is not just about a demanded wage increase of 10 percent, but Lufthansa’s roughly 6,000 pilots, including the cockpit members of LH Cargo, also want to have the sole control as to what age and under which conditions they can retire. So far, Captains were able to retire at the age of 55, with a guaranteed payment of 60 percent of their basic salaries until their statutory pension begins at the average age of 59 years. However, it was former Lufthansa Captains that went to court, opposing the existing retirement scheme, demanding in their lawsuit to be allowed to work until the age of 65. In a much noted decision, the European Court of Law admitted their claim. 


Competitors are rubbing their hands
Consequently, LH quit the traditional pension system for its entire cockpit personnel, saying that the law applies to everyone. Confronted with this ‘declaration of war’ by their employer, which would deprive this small elite of a key privilege, the VC members decided almost unanimously in a ballot to go on strike.

If done as announced, the walkout will extremely hurt LH. Competitors are supposedly rubbing their hands in their expectations to capitalize on this strike. For instance, an exporter of pharmaceuticals based in Hyderabad that utilizes LH Cargo constantly to have his shipments flown to the U.S. will have little or no understanding for the foreseeable disruption of the supply chain. The same accounts for hundreds of other clients booking space on board Lufthansa’s flights.
So, with their action the carrier’s cockpit staff are delivering travellers and logistics managers a further reason to opt for alternative transport solutions and see what other – especially non-European – airlines can do for them. Competitors are already on the starting blocks, particularly the fast expanding Gulf airlines, to take over a large chunk of the cake. If this will ever return to the German Crane after the labour dispute is settle for good, is doubtful. The same accounts for passengers that sure will appreciate being seated on board a Delta, Emirates or Turkish flight instead of being victimised by the walkout of the VC unionists. So by biting the hand that feeds them Lufthansa’s cockpit personnel are slowly but finally sawing off the branch on which they are sitting. 

Heiner Siegmund / Dirk Steiger

Here is what Lufthansa pilots earn
Young LH pilots are granted a basic salary of €55,500 per year. Including some bonuses this amounts to €73,000 in average.
Captains earn €193,000 after reaching the highest pay grade level. Adding the collectively agreed allowances they end up with €255,000 standing on their annual pay slip.