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Pilot strike held unlawful

On 9 September 2015 the Higher Labor Court Hesse (Landesarbeitsgericht Hessen) held the current Lufthansa pilot strike unlawful and issued a preliminary injunction against the pilots union “Cockpit” (ref. no. 9 SaGa 1082/15).

The current strike was number 13 in a series in the tariff (collective agreement) dispute which has already lasted for over a year. Officially the pilots union argues that the purpose of their strike is to conclude a new collective bargaining agreement on pensions. However behind the scenes the union harshly criticizes the Lufthansa management’s decision to establish a new low cost carrier platform called “Eurowings”. Recently management announced that future pilots will not be employed under the Lufthansa corporate collective bargaining agreement, but rather in other companies of the Lufthansa group until the cost structure has significantly improved. “Cockpit” is attempting to influence the management decision and demands discontinuance of the transfer of aircrafts and personnel away from Lufthansa.

While the court of first instance held that the strike was lawful, the Higher Labor Court Hesse (Landesarbeitsgericht Hessen) granted Lufthansa a preliminary injunction. The court found that the pilots union was not pursuing a new collective bargaining agreement on pensions. In the particular case evidence instead proved that the strike was directed against the new “Wings concept” pursued by Lufthansa management. However, a management decision cannot be the subject of collective agreement. Therefore, the court held the strike unlawful and the pilots union immediately stopped the strike.

The court decision is surprising, as all past attempts to prohibit a pilots strike have been unsuccessful. It will be interesting to see how the decision affects the pilots union’s plans for further strikes in the weeks and months to come, and whether other courts will follow this example.