FRANKFURT: The head of Lufthansa called for a reform of workers’ right to strike as the biggest strike in the airline’s history entered its third and final day.
While Lufthansa chief executive Christoph Franz insisted that the right to strike was a constitutional right, “from our point of view, there must be a guarantee that critical infrastructure is kept up and running.
“And that includes railways and air traffic control,” Franz told the business daily Handelsblatt in an interview.
Lufthansa’s pilots have been on strike since Wednesday, grounding most of the airline’s flights and leaving as many as 425,000 passengers without a connection.
Lufthansa canceled around 3,800 flights on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as a result of the walkout by pilots who are demanding better pay and retirement conditions.
While the walkout is expected to cost Lufthansa tens of millions of euros (dollars), no travel chaos has ensued because Lufthansa was able to warn passengers in advance and help them make alternative travel arrangements.
The strike has come under heavy fire from politicians and industry, but a poll by ARD public television showed that the majority of Germans supported the pilots’ industrial action.
As many as 55 percent of those surveyed said they understood the pilots’ position versus 42 percent against, the poll found.
Nevertheless, the level of support is still much lower than two years ago when 75 percent of Germans said they understood a strike by cabin staff.
Lufthansa CEO Franz has said he expects services to return to normal on Saturday, even if there might be a few isolated disruptions for operational reasons.
Lufthansa said the three-day walkout by its pilots, which has effectively grounded Germany’s largest airline, could cost it up to 75 million euros ($103 million) as it called on their union to return for talks over pay and retirement conditions.
Lufthansa has canceled a total of 3,800 flights over the strike period.
It hopes flights will run normally on Saturday, with only a few rescheduled due to crews being out of place as a result of the stoppage.
“A definite calculation will take several days… We estimate it at between 35 million and 75 million euros,” Kay Kratky, chief operating officer of Lufthansa German Airlines, told journalists on Friday when asked to calculate the cost of the strike.
“The consequences are disastrous,” Kratky said, adding that with seven strikes from various groups of workers to have hit German airlines and airports in the last 12 months, customers would think twice about traveling with a German company.
The pilots union, which has faced a barrage of media criticism in Germany over demands to retain an early retirement scheme, said it was ready to restart talks at any time.
After years of wage restraint, Germans have become more aggressive in their demands for higher pay over the last couple of years, resulting in a higher number of strikes.
Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz has already apologized to customers via a YouTube video and Jens Bischof, chief commercial officer of the group’s Passenger Airlines division, has also sent a letter to customers on Facebook.
“I can only apologize for the inconvenience. Please stay loyal,” Franz said in the video.
The airline said on Friday that it would not be making any new offer to the pilots before restarting talks. The pilots’ union, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), has previously called on Lufthansa to make a new offer first.
Lufthansa first wanted to concentrate on returning its operations to normal, and would then contact the union within the next few days, Kratky said.
The union has promised there will be no further pilots’ strikes until after the end of the Easter school holidays, which run until the end of the month.
A poll by German public broadcaster ARD said that 55 percent of those surveyed supported the strike, far lower than in 2012 when cabin crew went on strike and 75 percent of those surveyed were in support.