Some aviations companies latch onto the Covid-19 crisis to escalate their attack on the labour force

August 20, 2020

Since the beginning of theCovid-19 crisis, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has been working flat out with its affiliates, employers, governments and relevant international institutions to protect the rights of its affiliates and transport workers globally.

The ITF and its aviation affiliates have identified several strategic responses to the crisis, including:

• immediate action by governments, employers and workers to mitigate job and income losses and to retain skills,

• closer collaboration between all stakeholders and international organisations to deal coherently with the mid and long-term effects of the crisis, and

• a review of the economic and regulatory framework for all segments of the industry to establish a new deal for the international aviation industry.

So far, the ITF has witnessed a stark asymmetry in the response of different aviation companies to the crisis. The good news is, most of the companies engaged in extensive consultation with workerand trade union representatives, usually per national employment law, and most of these companies considered, and subsequently implemented, a range of alternatives to direct job losses.

On the other hand, at some other companies,this crisis hasled to accusations of opportunism by our civil aviation affiliates, rather than constructive dialogue or the creation and consolidation of social partnership.

Some of the examples of such on-going disputes are as follows:

• On 26 May, LATAM Airlines, a regional giant based in Chile, with subsidiaries in the US, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Manhattan federal court to reorganize its business. The company laid off thousands of workers in Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia or placed them on unpaid leave as it did at its Argentinean subsidiary.

• Employees of Turkish Airlines (THY) have been facing an uncertain future for more than five months due to excessive concession demands of the airline management. Although the ITF affiliated Turkish Civil Aviation Union (Hava-İş) agreed to a number of cost cutting measures in late July, shortly after the agreement announcement the company unilaterally cancelled the deal, effectively asking for a blank check.

• In April, British Airways owner IAG warned it could cut up to 12,000 jobs due to the impact of Covid-19 crisis. The staff werewarned that if an agreement was not reached, they would be handed their notice and re-hired on new contracts.

Unfortunately, such examples haven’t produced any extra savings butonly increased tensions, lowered trust,and will probably lead to further intensified conflict in the near future.

On the other hand, in Nigeria, the ITF affiliated NUATE (National Union of Aviation Employees) is seeking modalities for the application of N500 billion announced by Federal Government for businesses impacted by Covid-19 pandemic. In NUATE’s own words, their goal is to “draw the government’s attention to the recommendations of the ILO in partnership with the ITF on how to drive implementation of intervention funds for impacted sectors of the economy, including the aviation sector.”

Gabriel Mocho Rodriguez, ITF Civil Aviation Section Secretary, noted: “There is a huge difference between getting through a crisis and taking advantage of it. When an employer refuses to negotiate with one of our affiliate in good faith, and when our affiliate asks for support, the ITF extends its solidarity to ensure that an amicable and socially responsible solution can be found.”

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