* German pilots’ union says strike action imminent
* Union says willing to talk if new proposals put forward
* Lufthansa attempts to stave off strike
* Lufthansa shares suffer, lowest gainer among blue chips (Adds pilots’ union comment)
By Victoria Bryan
BERLIN, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Lufthansa has asked the German pilots’ union VC to return to talks as the airline tries to stave off another costly strike over changes to an early retirement scheme.
Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), which represents most of Lufthansa’s 5,400 pilots, said it was willing to come back to the table if Lufthansa put forward new proposals.
“As soon as there is an offer worth discussing, we’re ready to reopen talks,” VC board member Markus Wahl told Reuters.
VC decided in favour of imminent industrial action after it said late on Friday that talks about the retirement scheme had failed. However, it left the timing of any strike open.
“We would definitely announce strike actions a day ahead of time,” Wahl said.
Earlier on Monday, Lufthansa board member Bettina Volkens said the company wanted to avoid industrial action.
“We are looking for a compromise and can’t understand why the talks have been described as a failure,” she told reporters.
The row with the pilots relates to provisions for an early retirement scheme that dates back 50 years.
Lufthansa pilots could only work until the age of 55, meaning there was an eight-year gap between the end of their career and the legal retirement age in Germany.
But European courts have now ruled they can work until 65 and Lufthansa wants to scrap the early retirement scheme, for which it set aside 1.1 billion euros in its 2013 accounts.
The pilots want to ensure their members still have the right to retire early if they wish, without losing the provisions.
Lufthansa had cancelled the scheme with effect as of this year, but after a three-day strike in April over the same issue it said it would keep the provisions in place until 2016, to allow more time for negotiations.
Shares in Lufthansa came under pressure from the strike threat on Monday, closing up only 0.2 percent, lagging all other shares on Germany’s Dax index.
DZ Bank analyst Dirk Schlamp said a longer strike could threaten the 2014 earnings target at Lufthansa, which has already warned on profit this year. “Moreover, it would again burden the company’s reputation,” he said.
The three-day walkout by pilots in April cost Lufthansa 60 million euros in lost profits in the first half of the year.
In June, the airline cut its profit targets for the next two years. It cited the impact of the pilot strikes, which put people off booking for several months, as one of the reasons.
Raimund Mueller, head of flight operations at Munich, said he believed the pilots would give 24 hours’ notice of any strike and that any action would not be as widespread as April’s nationwide strike.
Volkens said Lufthansa would like to agree a timetable with the pilots’ union for the talks, so if agreement is not reached by a certain date both sides can call for arbitration.
1 US dollar = 0.7582 euro Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen; writing by Jonathan Gould; editing by David Clarke