Germanwings strike

Three-day Germanwings strike over the turn of the year

Jennifer Weitbrecht
31.12.2019
1 picture
4 minutes

From the 30th of December at midnight until the 1st of January at midnight, the German Flight Attendant Union UFO (Independent Flight Attendants’ Organisation – Unabhängige Flugbegleiter Organisation) called the flight attendants of Germanwings to strike.

UFO pulls the rip cord in the wage dispute

So far, no solution could be found in the current flight attendant tariff dispute of the Lufthansa subsidiary Germanwings, resulting in a strike. Nevertheless, UFO does not want to pull out all the stops at once – lucky for the passengers. Lufthansa is given the opportunity to meet wage demands before possibly announcing further strikes starting on January 2nd.

The demands in the Germanwings strike

The majority of flight attendants at Lufthansa are represented by UFO, the union demands: Wage increases of two percent, higher expenses and bonuses, and a change in the regulations for seasonal workers, which will make it easier to transition to regular employment. Part of the wage dispute is also a longer-term agreement on the gradual reduction of retirement benefits for employees.

The arbitrators in the Germanwings strike

Both sides agreed to mediation and the appointed mediators already held several meetings. The former head of the Federal Employment Agency, Frank-Jürgen Weise, was appointed by Lufthansa. UFO chose the former head of the SPD, Matthias Platzeck. Further talks could possibly take place in January, a date has not yet been confirmed.

The Lufthansa strike in November

The two-day strike of Lufthansa’s flight attendants in November hit the passengers much harder until now than the Germanwings strike at the turn of the year: 1,500 cancelled flights, about 200,000 passengers affected. This time the strike is estimated to “only” affect about 100 flights.

Among other things, UFO used the strike in November to demonstrate its ability to act after the union weakened itself through internal friction. This led to the resignation of several board members and was accompanied by allegations of embezzlement, including investigations by the public prosecutor’s office, which have not yet been concluded.

Lufthansa kicked hard against UFO

Lufthansa even went so far as to question the UFO’s characteristic as union. But UFO won the court case on this topic. According to Hagen Lesch, wage expert at the Cologne Institute of the German Economy (IW), trust has been lost on both sides. The former UFO boss and former cabin chief Nicoley Baublies has already been dismissed by Lufthansa on several occasions, furthermore there are several lawsuits pending from Lufthansa against the current chairmen, Sylvia de la Cruz and Daniel Flor. These should be solved in the first place, but Lufthansa refuses.

Call of mediators to determine willingness to negotiate

Lesch demanded to call in a mediator in the wage dispute from Lufthansa – before the conciliation proceedings were continued. The mediator should first find out whether both parties are really willing to negotiate with each other. UFO in particular needs certainty that Lufthansa will take them seriously as negotiating partners. Such an approach could possibly prevent further escalation.

Criticism of UFO

But it is by far not only understanding for UFO that is being articulated … Sharp criticism came from aviation expert Heinrich Großbongardt, among others. According to him, the UFO strike is incomprehensible during the arbitration proceedings. “In a mediation, the parties leave each other alone. This comes out of the blue. Therefore, it seems to me to be above all a profile neurosis of the previous UFO chairman”, said Großbongardt. On the one hand, this procedure is spoiling the Christmas holiday for countless Germanwings passengers, on the other hand, the success of the current arbitration procedure is being risked.

Not only Großbongardt, but also industry expert Cord Schellenberg criticizes UFO. He also considers the timing more than inappropriate, as it affects especially families on Christmas vacation. In addition, he said, one must remain realistic: Salaries at Lufthansa are still leading in the industry, but this cannot remain so. “The employees must understand that the old Lufthansa can no longer exist in the future. We should not continue to demand collective bargaining agreements that are significantly above the industry average,” emphasized Schellenberg.

Criticism of Lufthansa

Schellenberg’s criticism is not only directed at the union but also at the airline. For example, the previous strategy, according to which UFO’s status as a union was challenged in court, had not been advantageous. One should have been aware that this would have consequences. Since Lufthansa, like all airlines, is in intense competition, the Group could not really afford to do so.

by Jennifer Weitbrecht

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