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140,000 Lufthansa passengers grounded by pilots’ strike

Passengers awaiting to board a plane/FILE

Passengers awaiting to board a plane/FILE

FRANKFURT, Sep 9- German airline Lufthansa on Wednesday said 140,000 passenger were grounded and 1,000 flights cancelled as a two-day strike by pilots entered its second day.

The airline’s application for a court injunction against the walkout — the 13th in 18 months — was turned down by Frankfurt’s labour court late on Tuesday.

The strike, which was called by pilots’ union Vereinigung Cockpit, initially affected long haul flights on Tuesday, but the union later expanded it to include short and medium haul services on Wednesday to turn up heat on the management.

Management and the unions have been locked in a bitter dispute since April 2014 over plans to change the pilots’ early retirement arrangements.

The BDI industry federation warned that the repeated stoppages could hit the wider economy. And conservative lawmaker Michael Fuchs said the dispute could be “extremely dangerous” for Lufthansa’s competitiveness, calling on both sides to seek outside arbitration.

Out of a total 1,520 Lufthansa flights that should have flown on Wednesday, only around 500 would go ahead, the carrier said.

The strike only affects Lufthansa services, while flights by its subsidiaries – Germanwings, Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines – would operate normally.

Passengers on domestic flights are being allowed to swap their tickets for a ticket on the German national railway, Deutsche Bahn.

In addition to the unsuccessful injunction, Lufthansa has upped the ante by seeking damages of 60 million euros ($67 million) from Cockpit for loss of earnings from a strike back in April 2014, when the wage agreement with pilots at the time was still in force.

In the past 18 months, pilots have staged repeated walkouts, but suspended industrial action in March after a Germanwings jet crashed in the French Alps in an incident blamed on a suicidal co-pilot.

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The dispute hinges on plans by Lufthansa to scrap an arrangement under which pilots can retire at 55 and receive up to 60 percent of their pay until they reach the statutory retirement age of 65.

Pilots are also concerned about Lufthansa’s aim to further develop its low-cost activities as it faces growing competition.

Cockpit on Monday said it had made substantial concessions and accused management of seeking to “smash wage agreement structures and demolish protective mechanisms in order to weaken the union”.

Lufthansa has embarked on a massive reorganisation, farming out much of its domestic and medium-haul services to Germanwings.

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