German pilot union Vereinigung Cockpit has expressed scepticism about Lufthansa’s planned a new leisure subsidiary Ocean, and intends to oppose efforts by the airline to employ crews without collective labour agreements.

Citing internal group communications, including job adverts, the union says Lufthansa plans to launch operations with three long-haul aircraft in the spring of 2021.

Lufthansa has previously said that Ocean is being modelled on group carrier Swiss’s leisure subsidiary Edelweiss and will operate long- and short-haul tourist flights from the mainline’s Frankfurt and Munich hubs to “complement the portfolio of Lufthansa and Eurowings”.

The union believes Lufthansa intends to recruit internal staff for the new unit and says: “So far, the group does not plan to employ staff on terms that apply to the [mainline].”

Employees will effectively reapply for jobs to operate routes previously served by Lufthansa, on “significantly worse” conditions than at the mainline, the union suggests.

In June, Lufthansa Group disclosed plans to cut 22,000 full-time positions. There have since been suggestions that this number could increase after a July-August recovery in airline activity came to a halt.

Marcel Grols, the union’s head of collective bargaining policy, states that “a company like Lufthansa must plan seriously”, and calls on the airline to negotiate a collective union agreement for Ocean.

“If Ocean’s profitability depends on having no collective terms, Ocean will not be successful in the long term,” argues Grols. “Because one thing is certain: we will take care of collective terms in good time.”

Vereinigung Cockpit describes the timing of Lufthansa’s launch plan for Ocean as “unfortunate”.

Union chief Markus Wahl states: “The question arises as to whether Lufthansa has to spend so much money in the middle of the biggest crisis since September 11 to compete with the already ailing carriers Condor and TUI [TUIfly] in the tourism business. We expect years of losses during the start-up phase.”

The German government has provided Lufthansa, Condor and TUI with state aid to weather the crisis.

Lufthansa confirms that on 9 September it started an internal recruitment initiative to employ 300 flight- and cabin crew for Ocean – “to offer Lufthansa Group employees a perspective in these difficult times”.

Interested staff must apply to Ocean – a standalone company with its own AOC – but Lufthansa notes that the new entity’s name will not serve as a customer-facing brand.

The group says it decided before the pandemic to “bundle” leisure operations to improve its position in that market.

“Even before the crisis, we saw large growth potential in the tourism segment, and believe that demand for leisure flights will recover significantly faster than for business travel.”

Eurowings launched long-haul flights in 2015, using wet-leased Airbus A330s from the German arm of SunExpress, Lufthansa’s leisure joint venture with Turkish Airlines. In June, Lufthansa disclosed a decision to close SunExpress Germany.

In parallel, Lufthansa also conducted leisure flights under its own brand, but different labour terms, with a fleet of more densely configured A340s operated by its regional CityLine unit.

In 2019, Lufthansa revealed that it was taking over responsibility for Eurowings’ long-haul flights, while the low-cost subsidiary would concentrate on its European operations.

Lufthansa says employment terms at Ocean will reflect the company’s position in the “private-traveller, touristic field”.

The group adds: “We are guided by the conditions that other airlines offer in this segment [like] SunExpress.”