By David Meyer
April 10, 2018

Europe is facing significant air travel disruption on Tuesday because of public-sector workers’ strikes in Germany and France that affect some of the countries’ main airports.

The strike by Germany’s Verdi union, which is protesting over pay, means ground handling and support services won’t show up on Tuesday at Frankfurt, Munich, Cologne and Bremen airports. Part of the airports’ fire brigades will also refrain from working.

Verdi’s strike began at 5 a.m. Central European Time, and will last until 6 p.m. As a result, Lufthansa, the German national carrier, has had to cancel half of its 1,600 scheduled flights for Tuesday, including 58 long-haul flights. The airline says 90,000 passengers are affected.

Air France, meanwhile, has had to cancel a quarter of its flights on Tuesday due to industrial action specifically targeting the French airline, this time affecting many pilots and cabin crew as well as ground staff. Only 65% of Air France’s long haul flights from Paris Charles de Gaulle will take off today.

Verdi and other German civil servants’ unions want their 2.3 million members to get a pay raise of at least 6%, to make up for the disparity between public-sector pay and that in the private sector, which has steamed ahead over the last couple decades.

“Even after two rounds of negotiations, employers have made no offer to increase wages,” Verdi said in a statement. “That is why we are now conducting warning strikes.”

The next round of negotiations starts this weekend. If unsuccessful, this warning strike might cascade into more widespread disruption.

“It is completely unacceptable for the union to impose this conflict on uninvolved passengers,” Lufthansa legal affairs chief Bettina Volkens said. “Lufthansa is not a part of this collective bargaining conflict, but unfortunately our customers and our company are being affected by the consequences of this dispute.”

Volkens said strikes should be the last resort in wage disputes, not part of negotiations. “Politicians and legislators must define clear rules for strikes and industrial actions,” she said.

Across the border to the southwest, the Air France strike coincides with strikes by workers at SNCF, the national rail firm. So passengers hoping to travel within France don’t have the backup options of those in Germany, where Lufthansa is converting domestic flight tickets into rail tickets. The French strikes are more generalized than those in Germany, as people become restive under the pro-business leadership of President Emmanuel Macron.

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