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Pilots’ strike grounds 750 Lufthansa flights

German airline Lufthansa cancelled around 750 short- and medium-haul flights Wednesday, hitting tens of thousands of passengers, as pilots staged fresh strike action in a bitter dispute over early retirement.

Pilots' strike grounds 750 Lufthansa flights
An aircraft in Lufthansa livery sitting on the tarmac at Leipzig airport. Photo: DPA

Just over half of the carrier's scheduled 1,400 domestic and European flights to and from Frankfurt and Munich were grounded, affecting around 80,000 passengers, a Lufthansa spokesman said.

The strike was set to continue throughout Thursday when it will shift to target long-haul and cargo services.

The two-day walkout is the 12th bout of strike action to hit the German airline since last April over management plans to change the pilots' transitional pension arrangements.

Flights operated by Lufthansa's subsidiaries Germanwings, Eurowings, Swiss and Austrian Airlines were not affected.

A Lufthansa spokesman said the airline had sought to warn passengers of Wednesday's strike ahead of time via 20,000 text messages sent by mobile phone and 7,000 emails.

At Munich and Frankfurt airports, there were no reports of large groups of stranded passengers early Wednesday, national DPA news agency said.

Pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) announced late on the eve of the walkout that the initially planned one-day stoppage would be extended to Thursday.

Lufthansa slammed the latest action as "incomprehensible" and said it planned to maintain the bulk of its around 3,000 daily flights on Thursday, with most of the affected passengers offered alternatives.

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The dispute hinges on plans by Lufthansa to scrap an arrangement under which pilots can retire at 55 and receive up to 60 percent of their pay until they reach the statutory retirement age of 65.

Pilots are also concerned over Lufthansa's aim to further develop its low-cost activities as it faces growing competition.

Lufthansa said in a statement late Tuesday that calling Wednesday's strike lacked "any proportionality", and that the extension was "completely incomprehensible".

It had made an improved offer to the pilots' union in recent days, Lufthansa said, calling on VC to immediately continue talks.

"Instead of working on sound solutions for the future, the VC is inflicting damage now on Lufthansa customers worldwide," it fumed in a statement.

It also said it was "irresponsible" to refuse any form of negotiation over "privileges" for around 5,400 of the company's 12,000 workers.

For its part, Vereinigung Cockpit accused Lufthansa of not having "moved a millimetre" despite its claims, and urged the airline's bosses to negotiate "seriously" or accept "an overall settlement".

In the previous round of strike action in mid-February, Lufthansa's low-cost subsidiary Germanwings was forced to scrap close to 340 outbound flights from Germany.

Overall in 2014, the repeated strikes cost Lufthansa an estimated €232 million.

Last week the airline said it expected to see a "tangible" improvement in its underlying earnings this year after profits nosedived in 2014.

Lufthansa's profits were hit by a range of factors last year, including changes in the value of a convertible bond it had issued in 2012, and losses on its options for fuel price hedging.

Strike action by its pilots also weighed on earnings.

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CHRISTMAS

Strikes hit Amazon in Germany in the run up to Christmas

Around 2,500 Amazon employees at seven sites across Germany were on strike on Tuesday and unions warned stoppages could continue up to Christmas.

Amazon parcel in factory
A parcel rolls along a conveyor belt at an Amazon packing facility in Gera, Thuringia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Bodo Schackow

The strikes at so-called “fulfilment” centres, where Amazon prepares packages before delivery, began in two locations on Monday.

The Verdi union is calling on Amazon for an “immediate” salary increase of three percent this year, followed by a further 1.7 percent next year, in line with a collective agreement for the retail sector, to which the e-commerce giant does not adhere.

Amazon could not continue to “refuse wage increases that other companies in the sector pay”, Verdi retail head Orhan Akman said in a statement Monday.

Amazon, which operates 17 centres in Germany, argues it is a logistics company, a sector in which the terms of work are considered to be less burdensome for the employer.

Amazon said it did not expect the strike to have an impact on clients.

However, a Verdi spokesman said the stoppage could cause disruption, particularly in Amazon’s rapid-delivery “Prime” offering.

Strikes were likely to continue “until the end of the year”, the spokesman said, impacting on the busy Christmas shopping period.

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Verdi, which first called for strikes at Amazon in May 2013, organised demonstrations outside the fulfilment centres on Tuesday to protest poor working conditions.

Amazon — which has seen its business boom during the coronavirus pandemic as consumers increasingly shopped online — announced in September that it would open eight new centres in Germany, creating 3,000 jobs by 2022.

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