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Strike prompts Lufthansa to cancel 500-plus flights

File photo of air planes flying over the Fraport airport, next to a Lufthansa aircraft tail fin, in Frankfurt, September 4, 2012. REUTERS/Ka
File photo of air planes flying over the Fraport airport, next to a Lufthansa aircraft tail fin, in Frankfurt, September 4, 2012. REUTERS/Ka

By Maria Sheahan

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Deutsche Lufthansa has canceled more than 500 flights after German union Verdi called on 33,000 workers at the company to go on strike on Thursday over a wage dispute.

The strike is expected to last for about five hours from 5 a.m. (12.00 a.m. ET), the union said on Wednesday, setting the stage for the next round of wage talks on Friday.

Efforts by big European airlines such as Lufthansa and Air France-KLM to shrink costs in the face of soaring jet fuel prices and fierce competition from Middle Eastern airlines and low-cost carriers have fanned tensions with workers.

Strikes at Spanish airline Iberia , for instance, caused thousands of flight cancellations at a cost of about 30 million euros ($38.7 million) until workers accepted a mediated deal last week.

In negotiations that started last month, Germany's Verdi is demanding a 5.2 percent increase in wages for 12 months for employees at Lufthansa Cargo, Lufthansa Technik, Lufthansa Systems, catering unit LSG Sky Chefs and ground crews, as well as a commitment by Lufthansa to safeguard jobs.

Lufthansa, Europe's biggest airline by revenue, has said it wants to freeze pay and ask employees to work one hour more each week to help it to remain competitive in a tough market. Verdi called that counter-demand a "provocation" and called on Lufthansa to make a new offer.

Thursday's strike will affect operations across Germany, though Hamburg and the airline's main hub in Frankfurt will be most affected, the union said.

A list posted on the airline's website on Wednesday afternoon showed a total of 514 canceled flights, mostly to German and European destinations. Lufthansa said it aims to get most intercontinental flights off the ground despite the strike.

Travelers in Germany have already suffered this year as repeated strikes by airport security staff caused cancellations and delays.

Strikes, capacity cuts by airlines and harsh winter weather led to a 3.6 percent decline in passenger numbers at German airports in January and February, the worst start to the year since 2009, airports group ADV said on Wednesday.

Shares in Lufthansa were down 0.4 percent at 16.24 euros by 10.42 a.m. ET, while Germany's blue-chip DAX index <.GDAXI> was up 0.5 percent. ($1 = 0.7760 euros)

(Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen; Editing by David Goodman)

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