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Lufthansa, unions take step to end hostility

After months of strikes and out-in-the-open showdowns, Lufthansa and unions for its pilots, cabin crew and ground staff pledged to put an end to the drama. Even so, there's likely to be more turbulence ahead.

Following negotiations that dragged on longer than scheduled, the parties on Wednesday emerged from a high-profile jobs summit in Frankfurt appearing closer than they have at any point in nearly two years.

In a statement scant on specifics, the four sides - Lufthansa, flanked by the three unions UFO, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) and Verdi - committed to rebuilding trust by only carrying out future negotiations away from the public eye. Whether they had come any closer to squaring their differences remained up in the air late on Wednesday.

"The parties have concluded that they must improve their cooperation, trust as well as communication," the statement read.

"Today's jobs summit turned into a trust summit," remarked Lufthansa's Director of Industrial Relations Bettina Volkens. That in itself, she added, was a positive and important result for everyone involved.

Representatives of the three unions sat down with Lufthansa management following a board meeting earlier in the day. The aim was to defuse longstanding tension over the airline's plans to cut costs in the face of fierce competition from discount carriers and Gulf rivals, while expanding its own low-cost Eurowings arm. The unions fear better-paid positions would be eliminated in the process.

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Lufthansa wins symbolic court victory

In what's sure to be seen as a small victory for Lufthansa, the flight attendants' union UFO on Wednesday pledged no more strikes in the coming months. This comes after cabin crew staged the longest walkout in the airline's history just last month. The seven-day strike grounded 4,700 flights and more than half a million passengers. It also

marked the 13th time

the aviation giant has been hit by industrial action in just 20 months, dealing significant blows to both its coffers as well as its image, as cancellations time and again

tested customers' patience

.

Despite Wednesday's detente, there's likely to be some turbulence ahead for Lufthansa. So far, the company has only managed to secure a

deal with the Verdi union

, which represents most of its ground staff. That agreement, which was brokered Saturday, saw ground staff and employees of several of its subsidiaries take home a one-off payment of 2,250 euros ($2,350) if they worked between April and December 20015. They were also awarded a 2.2 percent pay increase for the next two years.

Employees at subsidiaries Lufthansa Systems, Lufthansa Service catering, Lufthansa Technik maintenance and Lufthansa Cargo freight service similarly benefited from the new collective bargaining accord, which runs until the end of 2017.

Changes to employees' retirement benefits have been another key sticking point in negotiations with all staff unions. To keep things moving, Lufthansa agreed that recent and future hires will receive the same pension scheme as long-time employees. However, all employees must now contribute 1 per cent of their salary to their plan while the company will put in 5.2 per cent.

While Lufthansa has yet to reach an accord with UFO and VC, Wednesday's summit could mark a crucial first step towards defusing the tension that's blocked progress thus far, paving the way for a deal.

pad/uhe (dpa, Reuters)

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