German airline Lufthansa said Monday an open-ended pay strike by ground and cabin staff had failed to disrupt air traffic on its first day but unions say the impact will be felt dearly by the airline in the coming days.
The strike wasn't enough to keep planes on the ground
"There have been no cancellations or delays caused by the strike thus far," Lufthansa spokesman Peter Schneckenleitner told German national television Monday, July 28, adding that 600 takeoffs had been cleared as planned by midday at the height of the holiday season.
Verdi, Germany's second largest union with 2.2 million members, said 4,000 workers had joined the strike by midday, with more to follow from the late shifts. The union is demanding a substantial pay rise for 50,000 workers.
The strike, the first open-ended work stoppage at Lufthansa in 13 years, threatens to hit areas from catering and cargo to maintenance and repairs.
Union says strike will cause Lufthansa dearly
Verdi pay talks head Erhard Ott acknowledged that there had been little observable effect on flights. But measures put in place by the airline to ensure continued service were costing "really a lot of money," he claimed.
Fears of cancellations and stranded travelers were not entirely founded
Some analysts have put the cost of the strike at about 5 million euros ($7.85 million) per day for Lufthansa.
Lufthansa officials have said their emergency measures included transferring passengers to other flights, shifting staff to cover gaps and possibly using other airlines' catering services.
The union targeted Lufthansa's main hub Frankfurt and the northern city of Hamburg on the first day of the strike. Pilots are not involved in the current labor action.
Ott said the main aim of the strike was not to target passengers but to hurt the company financially by forcing it to take costly emergency measures to maintain services.
The union predicted Lufthansa would soon begin to feel the effects of the strike by aircraft maintenance workers.
"After a week, it will really start to hurt," said Hauke Brockmann, a Verdi official in Hamburg.
Unions in combative mood
Not everyone at Lufthansa took part in the first day of the strike
Lufthansa communications chief Klaus Walther appealed to the union to return to talks.
Verdi is demanding for 9.8 percent more pay for 50,000 ground and cabin staff. Lufthansa, the second-biggest European airline after Air France-KLM, in terms of passenger numbers, is offering 6.7 percent over 21 months and a one-time payment.
Other unions have not heeded Verdi's strike call. They include the UFO union, which claims to be the main union for cabin crew, and is demanding a 15 percent pay rise for its members.
Last week, in a separate strike, pilots at two Lufthansa subsidiaries came out on strike for 36 hours, causing 900 flights to be cancelled.
Several German unions are seeking more pay after relative restraint in recent years as inflation spirals in Europe's biggest economy.
The strike comes at a time when airlines around the world are facing pressure to cut costs amid cripplingly high fuel bills as the world economy slows.
Verdi has said it is open to new talks if Lufthansa improves its offer. Wage talks broke down on July 10.
Strike sparks criticism
Verdi's strike has sparked heavy criticism from political and industry leaders.
The strike is hitting when many people are leaving on vacation
"We've got to do everything we can to prevent this strike," said Klaus Lippold, a member of parliament and transport expert for the Christian Democrats. "Not only to save the holiday season, but to prevent damage to Germany's air travel industry."
Rainer Wend, an economy expert in parliament for the Social Democrats, also spoke out against the strike.
"Even though one must accept a strike being a tool in a labor dispute, it's still unfortunate that innocent bystanders and holiday travelers will be hurt by the strike more than the union's opponents," Wend told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.