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As holiday makers are boarding their flights back home, behind the scenes of one of Europe’s largest low cost airlines tension between management and pilots is building up. The multiple strikes of easyJet’s pilots stationed at Schiphol Airport have brought to the surface some of the issues that are piling up in the company. But the conflict goes wider and deeper. The relationship between management and pilots is at a historic low, says the easyJet Pilot Group (ePG), representing flight crew from all bases of the airline across Europe.

Unlike several of its low cost competitors, when it comes to employment relations, easyJet is usually not known for “bare-knuckled” tactics. Yet.

In fact, criticism from easyJet pilots has mounted in the past months. They observe a worrying trend for significantly lowering the terms and conditions of pilots below a minimum, increasing workload, with – as a result – growing fatigue among crews. 

Uniting over 90% of easyJet pilots all over Europe, the ePG observes this negative trend across all bases of the airline. Pilots are working successive long working days without sufficient rest to fully recover and leading to cumulative fatigue. In combination with the relatively new EU Flight Time Limitations scheme, the prevalence of fatigue among the pilot community has risen to unacceptably high levels. Within the easyJet network, the 2016 average annual rate of ‘fatigue offloads’ – pilots unfit to fly due to fatigue – shows a substantial increase compared to 2015. Their fatigue reporting rate has marked a significant increase over the same period. High workload, roster instability, time pressure and increased stress and fatigue levels, is a mix that no airline should allow.

In addition to workload and fatigue, the continued lack of pension provisions and sick pay arrangement are of concern and a source of growing frustration among the pilot community. Those two issues also lie at the heart of the conflict in the Collective Labour Agreement negotiations between easyJet management and their pilots in the new Amsterdam base. While pensions and adequate sick pay should be basic elements of every contract in the whole easyJet network irrespective of the country, easyJet management chose to not provide them to their new Dutch pilots. By not allowing pilots to negotiate a Europe-wide CLA, the airline demonstrates a “Divide and Conquer” strategy. It is therefore no surprise that the ePG – marking its 10th anniversary this summer – is still not officially recognised by the airline as the legitimate transnational representative. 

Taking effective measure to reduce workload and fatigue are urgent and critical. But beyond that, easyJet might be well advised to work on restoring the trust between management and their key safety professionals – the pilots.