Lufthansa staff strike grounds hundreds of flights

German airline, Lufthansa cancelled around 40 per cent of its flights today as staff struck work on the eve of wage talks with the carrier, as it tries to cut costs to compete with Middle East and low-cost carriers.

The strike, called by labour union Verdi yesterday, left harried passengers stranded as they waited in long lines at Frankfurt airport's Terminal 1, the home of Lufthansa.

Some passengers were forced to sleep on the ground in a corner of the building, kept company by piles of suitcases waiting for pickup. The strike was supposed to end mid-morning but caused delays and almost 700 cancellations throughout the day.

Efforts by big European airlines such as Lufthansa and Air France-KLM to cut costs amid surging jet fuel prices and fierce competition from Middle Eastern airlines and low-cost carriers had led to tensions with workers.

Verdi has put up a demand for 5.2-per cent pay rise for 33,000 cabin crew and ground staff at Lufthansa Cargo, Lufthansa Technik, Lufthansa Systems, catering unit LSG Sky Chefs and ground crews. It is also seeking a commitment by Lufthansa to safeguard jobs.

Lufthansa, the biggest European airline by revenue, wants to introduce a pay freeze and get staff to work an hour more each week to help it to remain competitive.

The union and Lufthansa are to meet tomorrow to discuss the union's demand for a 5.2 per cent increase over the next year for 33,000 Lufthansa employees. According to the union, Lufthansa's call for a two-year pay freeze until January 2015 and the extension of the work week by an hour was not acceptable. 

The airports of Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne were all affected, for both internal and European flights following Verdi's call for ''warning'' strike ahead of pay talks.

Verdi spokesman Gerold Schaub said the union expected Lufthansa to acknowledge the move. He added, the union would then try to get some results at the negotiating table so that further strikes would not be necessary, however in case Lufthansa continued to stick to its current strict position then further strikes could not be ruled out.