A temporary strike left almost all of German national carrier Lufthansa's flights grounded on Monday, with thousands of technicians and ground crew workers walking off the job for the day.
In response to the strike, which began in the early hours of the morning, the company cancelled the majority of its domestic and European flights, in addition to many long-haul flights. Of the some 1,720 scheduled flights, just 32 were expected to take off, news agency DPA reported, with more cancellations expected for Tuesday.
Terminals at Lufthansa hubs such as Frankfurt and Hamburg were reportedly largely empty because the airline had managed to inform customers in advance. Domestic customers were also offered the chance to exchange their boarding passes for train tickets with national rail provider Deutsche Bahn, which said it would run extra trains if necessary.
The strike was announced by public services union Verdi on Friday, after Lufthansa, Germany's biggest carrier, "failed to present a negotiable offer" in the third round of talks in an ongoing wage dispute, the union said.
Lufthansa called the strike a "completely excessive measure" in a strongly worded statement on Friday, which accused the union of "resorting to unprecedented, coercive methods" that stem from competition among unions themselves, at the expense of customers. Last month, the airline was the target of a similar strike.
"It is high time that policymakers address the need for new rules with regard to industrial conflicts in those areas which are essential for the industry infrastructure," the statement said.
Cost-Cutting at Lufthansa
Small German niche unions for individual professions have been gaining power in Germany, prompting the national employers' association to call on the government to help curb pressure on companies from rival unions, though little progress has been made.
Rainer Brüderle, parliamentary group leader for the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), the junior party in Chancellor Merkel's center-right coalition, was also critical of the union's tactics. "Passengers shouldn't be taken hostage for the sake of a wage dispute," he said in Berlin.
Negotiations between Verdi and Lufthansa have been going on since late February. Verdi has demanded a 5.2 percent pay raise and job guarantees within a year for some 33,000 Lufthansa ground and cabin crew, citing job security and improved conditions for trainees as major concerns.
Lufthansa made a modified counter offer for performance-related compensation that would increase salaries by more than 3 percent for certain employee groups, DPA reported. Amid fierce competition from discount airlines and airlines based in the Persian Gulf region and high fuel prices, the airline is currently in the grip of cost-cutting measures, and wants to slash some 3,500 administrative jobs worldwide to reduce expenses by 1.5 billion ($1.96 billion).