Court Blocks Control Tower Strike At Frankfurt

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Published: February 29, 2012

Fraport and Lufthansa succeeded in preventing a walkout by air traffic controllers that would have brought Frankfurt airport to a standstill on Wednesday morning.

Fraport teamed up with Lufthansa and air traffic controllers’ authority DFS to seek a temporary injunction after trade union GdF urged control tower staff to join walkouts by airfield employees at Frankfurt airport in a row over pay and conditions.

The judge said the effect of the air traffic controllers joining the strike would have been vastly out of proportion to the original walkouts by 190 staff who guide planes into position at the airport, and that its impact would have been felt long after the six-hour strike.

The union had asked 12 air traffic controllers to join the strike from 0400 GMT to 1000 GMT on Wednesday, meaning no flights would have been able to take off or land during those hours.

The strike of airfield workers is now in its third week, but Fraport has been able to fill the gaps using former apron workers, ensuring only short-haul traffic is affected.

The judge had called on the two sides to reach an agreement in court, but the DFS said it wanted a definite ruling in order to ward off a recurrence of the solidarity strikes.

“For us, it’s important that the judge has made a decision,” DFS labour director Jens Bergmann said after the ruling. “The decision could still be appealed, but that will not happen tonight.”

Expanding strikes in solidarity is allowed under German law as long as any action remains within proportion.

A GdF spokesman said the union would appeal, although it was not immediately clear when or indeed if an appeal would take place. The union will also investigate what would constitute proportional strike measures, the spokesman added.

DELAYED

The walkouts by the 190 employees, who make up just 1 percent of Fraport’s workforce, started on February 16 and have so far forced the cancellation of about 1,600 flights. The airport averages around 1,300 flights a day.

The worst affected by the strikes is flagship airline Lufthansa, which accounts for around 60 percent of the flights at Frankfurt. It said on Tuesday it could no longer sit back and watch as a small group of workers threatened mass disruption.

“We’re not in an industry where you can catch up production. You can’t just say we’ll put on an extra shift tomorrow and get the flights back,” Lufthansa board member Stefan Lauer said earlier on Tuesday.

The court decision has come too late for many intercontinental flights, however.

Flights from Dubai, Bangkok and Singapore are among those due to arrive in Frankfurt early on Wednesday, but their departures have already been delayed to ensure they arrived after 1000 GMT, when the strike was due to end.

Tuesday’s court ruling also does not affect the walkouts by the 190 airfield workers, which resumed on Sunday at 2000 GMT and are due to run until 0400 GMT Thursday.

Fraport and Lufthansa have also applied for a temporary injunction against the GdF to halt the current and any further strikes by the apron workers and the court will hear that case on Wednesday at 0800 GMT.

The union wants higher pay and shorter hours for the staff who work on the airport apron. Fraport says the demands equate to pay rises of 50 to 70 percent and are unreasonable.

The walkouts have already brought calls for changes to Germany’s laws to prevent small groups of striking workers from exerting such pressure.

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