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Sun 22 Mar 2015 11:17 AM

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Strike continues to ground Lufthansa flights in the UAE

Industrial action has resulted in cancellation of some flights to and from Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Strike continues to ground Lufthansa flights in the UAE
(AFP/Getty Images)

Pilots at
Lufthansa staged a fourth straight day of walkouts on Saturday, grounding
almost half of the German airline's lucrative long-haul flights, including some
of those in the Middle East, in a protracted row over early retirement benefits
and cost cuts.

Lufthansa
cancelled 74 of a total 160 long-haul connections scheduled for Saturday,
affecting about 20,000 passengers.

A few short and
medium-distance flights were cancelled too, due to the knock-on effect of a
strike on Friday, a spokesman told Reuters. Cargo traffic was affected on
Saturday as well, although 15 of 18 flights still took off on time, he added.

Lufthansa hopes
traffic will largely get back to normal on Sunday, although a few long-haul
flights could be cancelled as a result of Saturday's walkouts, the spokesman
said.

However,
information online showed that all Lufthansa flights from Dubai today (Sunday)
have been cancelled, along with those from Abu Dhabi. Flights from Doha are
currently scheduled to depart as scheduled.

A
representative said flights from the Gulf are likely to return to normal from
Monday, March 23.

The German airline
wants to cut spending to levels nearer those of its rivals. It is being
squeezed by budget firms Ryanair and easyJet on European routes and by airlines
such as Turkish and Emirates on long-haul flights.

Strikes cost it
more than 200 million euros ($214 million) in lost operating profit last year,
and losses are mounting again as pilots hold their 15th walkout since last
April.

The airline's
dispute with pilots involves early retirement benefits that the VC pilots'
union wants to keep but which Lufthansa wants to change for new hires.

The pilots also
want Lufthansa to enter mediation on other outstanding issues, such as pay and
bringing costs down on flights to tourist destinations.

Lufthansa has
rejected the demand.

The airline is
also due to start separate wage talks on Monday with services union Verdi,
which represents about 33,000 Lufthansa workers on the ground at IT unit
Lufthansa Systems, catering unit LSG, Lufthansa Technik and Lufthansa Cargo.

“To the staff
of Lufthansa, I never go without saying this is a core asset for any airline,”
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told Arabian Business in an interview in Dubai.

“Does it
require restructuring in some parts of the business? In my pilot strikes yes it
does. But even with the resistance there is, for the future sustainability we
have to overcome that resistance to make the success story work in the future.”

A well-known
outspoken opponent of trade unions is Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, who two
years ago riled international union bosses when he said they were partly to
blame for the stagnant growth and unemployment problems faced by the western
world during the global economic crisis.

When Al Baker’s
views are pointed out to Spohr, he jokes he may look to the Qatar boss for
advice during his current predicament.

“We want to go
back to the negotiating table to have constructive discussions and if that
doesn’t work my backup plan is to hire Akbar as my union advisor,” he laughs.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall