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Unions

Flying in the face of reason

It's going to be the biggest strike in Lufthansa's history: hardly any planes will lift off for three days. The short-term financial loss is huge. And the airline's future is on the line, says DW's Henrik Böhme.

Flying into, out of and inside of Germany will be a real challenge over the next few days - at least for passengers who booked a Lufthansa ticket. Germany's largest airline is stuck on the ground, because it's being blackmailed.

The blackmailers are a group of employees who only constitute 10 percent of all people who work for Lufthansa, but receive 40 percent of the money the airline spends on pensions. They are responsible for travelers' lives, but are extremely well paid with yearly wages of up to 250,000 euros ($345,000). They enter early retirement at the average age of 59 and don't have to count every penny until their generous regular pensions arrive, either.

They are members of the proud guild of pilots. Of course they, too, have the right to go on strike and they, too, should receive fair wages. The fact that they earn more than others isn't the problem here. But the fact that they're now harming their own airline so significantly - experts estimate the damage to be between 30 and 40 million euros - has me thinking. After all, Lufthansa is in a tough competition with state-financed airlines from the Gulf region, for example. Currently, 15 percent of the stocks belong to Anglo-Saxon investors. They want to see profits, so management has to deliver.

But an equal burden are the 11 billion euros in pension costs which Lufthansa took on in better days. Competitors like Emirates or Etihad don't have this extra responsibility.

And these are exactly the companies that are making life harder for Lufthansa. Etihad is currently re-adjusting its partnership with Air Berlin and thus planning an attack on Lufthansa. The management of the airline with the crane logo can't just stand by and watch. The costs have to remain at least somewhat competitive, if Lufthansa wants to stay in the game.

In light of this immense financial pressure, what's so wrong about the airline's suggestion to make pensions more flexible step by step? For older pilots, everything stays the same, certain cuts will be made for younger employees and those just entering the field will have to take out pension provisions themselves.

Just like the majority of Germans are doing already.

So the reason for the Lufthansa pilot strike is the interim pension provision. It's easy to forget there's also a demand for higher wages on the table at the moment. The union wants a 10 percent raise. Any more questions?

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