FRANKFURT Germany's main airports were hit by a strike on Thursday morning, as public sector workers expanded industrial action to put more pressure on the government in pay talks.
The strikes are taking place at airports across Germany, including Frankfurt, Europe's third-largest hub, and Munich, both of which are mainly served by Lufthansa, Germany's No.1 airline.
In a bid to prevent the chaos caused by last month's security workers' strike, when thousands were stuck in the Frankfurt terminals, Lufthansa had canceled a third of flights scheduled for Thursday, including almost all domestic and European short-haul flights during the strike period until 1300 GMT.
While many Frankfurt airport staff are privately employed, there are still around 6,000 public sector workers in areas such as baggage handling, security and ground work.
Trade union Verdi had estimated that some 1,400 workers would take part in industrial action at Frankfurt but no numbers were immediately available to confirm if that was the case.
Other airlines such as Etihad, British Airways, TUIFly, Condor and Air Berlin took measures such as shifting flight times, moving departures to Duesseldorf, or encouraging people to travel with only hand baggage.
At Frankfurt, around 550 flights were canceled, a spokesman said. The airport usually operates 1,200-1,400 flights on a typical Thursday.
The walkout is part of wider industrial action that has also seen strikes by a range of other public sector workers, including local transport staff and childcare workers.
Trade unions want pay rises of 3.5 percent plus an extra 100 euros ($140) per month for about 2.1 million federal and municipal public sector workers. That would amount to a total increase of 6.7 percent, they say.
The government says it is willing to accept a pay increase but that the demands are too high.
Frank Bsirske, the head of Verdi, said he wanted to achieve a deal in the next round of pay talks scheduled for the start of next week.
"We want to take part in the economic upturn," he said on Thursday.
Data this week showed that income expectations, which were at a more than 13-month high in February, fell in March but remained strong thanks to a robust labor market, which fuelled expectations that negotiated wages would rise more steeply. This year, market researcher GfK, said workers in pay negotiations would likely get increases of 3 percent or more.
(Reporting by Victoria Bryan, Peter Maushagen, Kirsti Knolle and Ralf Bode; Editing by Mark Potter)