Airlines Lufthansa, Air Berlin and Ryanair have filed lawsuits against the German union of air traffic controllers for damages related to allegedly unlawful strike threats in August 2011. The union had threatened twice to call temporary strikes at short notice for better wages and other demands.

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper, the three airlines claim that the labour dispute caused losses of at least €3.2 million. News magazine Der Spiegel reported that:

  • Lufthansa is claiming damages of nearly €1.7 million from the union as compensation for flight cancellations and rebookings, delays, and increased personnel and fuel costs;
  • Air Berlin is claiming damages of more than €1.5 million; and
  • Ryanair is claiming damages of approximately €44,000.

The strikes were prevented at the last moment by way of settlement. According to the airlines, however, the union must compensate them for the damages incurred. The lawsuits are based on the argument that the union was pursuing unlawful demands in the labour dispute, which rendered the threats to strike illegal.

The union's spokesman has strongly criticised the three airlines, since if the claims succeed, unions will then have to consider carefully whether to exercise the right to strike. The risk of financial liability towards third parties could eventually restrict the unions' right to strike. The spokesman emphasised that the union is unperturbed by the lawsuits, since its actions were fully compliant with German law.

Never before has such a lawsuit been filed in Germany, which is based on the argument that an illegal threat to strike has caused financial losses to third parties. Further developments will be interesting to follow. A condemnation of the union would have a significant impact on future decisions of German unions to strike.

For further information on this topic please contact Jan Grawe at Arnecke Siebold by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0), fax (+49 69 97 98 85 85) or email ([email protected]).