In the middle of the peak vacation season, Lufthansa pilots have voted to take a tougher stance against their employer, clearing the way for a possible strike by a large majority. As the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) pilots' union announced on Sunday evening, 97.6 percent of the captains and first officers of the core Lufthansa brand and 99.3 percent of the Lufthansa Cargo pilots voted in favor of a basic willingness to strike. 93.2 and 95.7 percent of the pilots entitled to vote had taken part in the strike ballot. This means that the quorum of 70 percent approval was clearly exceeded.
Unlike the Verdi union, which had called on Lufthansa ground staff to stage an all-day warning strike after only two rounds of negotiations, the pilots, who have already gone through six rounds of negotiations, do not yet want to go on strike directly. However, the VC described the result of the vote as an "unmistakable signal to Lufthansa to take the needs of cockpit personnel seriously." Marcel Gröls, the union's collective bargaining policy chairman, said, "In the interest of our passengers, too, there is now a need for a serious will to find solutions on the part of Lufthansa, in order to jointly create creative solution spaces in the interest of the company and its employees." The Group said it was still counting on a constructive solution at the negotiating table. The next meeting dates have been set.
The VC's salary demands initially sound more moderate than those of Verdi. For ground staff, Verdi is demanding an immediate increase of 9.5 percent, but at least 350 euros a month, which would be equivalent to an increase of 16 percent or more for lower income groups. The pilots are initially demanding 5.5 percent, but want an increase mechanism based on inflation from 2023 onward. In view of the rise in inflation, Lufthansa considers this to be unacceptable.
The company also points out that 60 percent of the VC demands relate to structural issues beyond salary increases. And while the VC complains that Lufthansa has not yet presented any offer of its own, the company complains that the union has not sufficiently specified its other points. The union explained on Sunday that it was concerned with "aligning the compensation system in the staff body while at the same time increasing the attractiveness of the lower pay grades".
The fact that Lufthansa is pushing ahead with the establishment of new operating units with lower compensation structures is causing ill-feeling behind the scenes. The new Eurowings Discover is in operation for vacation flights from Frankfurt, Eurowings Europe, which was previously based in Vienna, is to move its formal headquarters to Malta, and a new unit is maturing under the project name "Cityline 2," which is to handle feeder flights to Frankfurt at lower costs than the core Lufthansa unit. The VC had already spoken of "tariff evasion" in the past. However, the VC denies any connection between the current wage dispute and the Group's plans. In the past, Lufthansa had a pilots' strike declared illegal by the courts because the VC had openly complained about the expansion plans for the cheaper second brand Eurowings at the time, but questions about the Group's strategy were not considered a legitimate reason for the strike.
Lufthansa is under pressure to curb a further increase in captains' salaries, which reach more than 200,000 euros a year for the longest-serving pilots. The group is aiming for a return on sales of 8 percent to secure its international competitiveness in the long term. Collective bargaining talks for ground staff will initially continue on Wednesday; Verdi has ruled out warning strikes until that date.
Lufthansa would like to permanently avoid a strike like the one last week, which almost paralyzed operations. In Group circles, it is now considered possible that Lufthansa will abandon the clause making part of the surcharges offered to ground staff dependent on the Group flying profitably. Lufthansa is aiming for this in 2023 anyway.
Image by Henry Fokuhl