Lufthansa pilots plan new strike on April 13

FRANKFURT Mon Mar 22, 2010 4:43pm GMT

A do-not-enter sign is seen near a Lufthansa check-in counter at Berlin's Tegel airport, February 23, 2010. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

A do-not-enter sign is seen near a Lufthansa check-in counter at Berlin's Tegel airport, February 23, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Pilots at Lufthansa plan to go on strike again next month after failing to resolve a dispute over pay and job security that already caused a costly work stoppage in February, their union said on Monday.

The pilots will strike from April 13 to April 16, the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) union said.

The move comes amid mounting labour unrest over management attempts to push through cost-cuts in an industry still reeling from its worst year in decades, in which consumers and companies reined in travel budgets amid the global economic crisis.

Cabin crew at British Airways started a three-day strike on Saturday over pay and working conditions, disrupting flights from London's Heathrow airport.

The BA workers, who are due to return to work on Tuesday, offered to resume talks with the company to try to settle a dispute that has become a political issue for the ruling Labour Party which faces an election within weeks.

Pilots at Air Berlin, Germany's second-biggest airline, this month called off a warning strike to hold wage talks with their employer.

Lufthansa's pilots walked out last month, but at the urging of a labour judge agreed to suspend the planned four-day strike after only one day to try to work out their differences with the German carrier's management.

The work stoppage had led to about 2,000 flight cancellations, left thousands of travellers stranded around the world and cost Lufthansa up to 50 million euros (45 million pounds). Each strike day costs Lufthansa 25 million euros in lost revenue and disrupts travel for days even after workers return.

PAY DISPUTE

With three weeks left until the strike is due to start, Lufthansa hopes it can still be avoided.

"We are ready for talks and hope very much that VC will return to the negotiating table," a spokeswoman for Lufthansa said on Monday.

Lufthansa's last major dispute with pilots in 2001, which resulted in a pay deal which added 125 million euros a year to staff costs, had to be mediated by Germany's former foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, as political pressure mounted.

Lufthansa said on Monday it had made an offer to VC that included asking workers to accept a pay freeze this year in exchange for job guarantees. VC said it would only accept a pay freeze in return for further concessions on job security.

One of the pilots' main concerns is that the airline, which aims to cut 1 billion euros of costs by 2011, wants to expand foreign units while shrinking its Germany-based operation because pilots and cabin crew abroad are paid less.

The starting salary for a captain at Lufthansa is about 115,000 euros, more than for instance budget carrier easyJet's starting salary at just over 80,000 pounds according to the companies' recruiting websites. Media reports have put the top end of Lufthansa pilots' salaries at about 325,000 euros.

Lufthansa last year completed a shopping spree that saw it add Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines and UK-based BMI to its stable, while also starting up its own airline in Italy, called Lufthansa Italia.

Lufthansa's talks with the UFO cabin crew union are also under way.

Shares in Lufthansa were up 0.3 percent at 12.325 euros by 1555 GMT, while the STOXX Europe 600 Travel & Leisure index was 0.3 percent lower. British Airways shares were 0.9 percent lower at 241.3 pence. ($1=.7401 euros)

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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