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True colours

Despite the occasional outcry about the “greedy” pilots on strike, all crew and many passengers do understand that negotiations with the employers can result in a deadlock which can at times lead to a strike. The current industrial disputes in numerous airlines across Europe have proven to be a pressure test for airline managers and their true colours.

Negotiating terms and conditions between pilot unions and airlines is always a challenge. It often creates a period with high tensions between the two parties that could drag on for months. Before starting such negotiations, it is clear that the large majority of pilots would like to build a life-long career with stable working conditions at the company they work for. Jumping from airline to airline is not what pilots want. We’re trained for a career for life and see the airline we work for – and fellow crew – as our family. 

And this attitude is reflected in our approach to negotiations: we want the airline to have a long-term vision for a robust future, to be profitable and prosperous. But it is in this tense atmosphere of negotiations and pressure that you actually see the values and beliefs of your employer, the management’s true vision about labour relations.

In the latest rounds of negotiations in Europe, we have seen them pulling out a renewed arsenal of union-busting tactics to undermine pilot unions and collective bargaining. 

The array of airline tactics is multifold: it involves suing or dismissing pilot union representatives for many different reasons, taking away previously agreed union days for staff representatives, closing or downsizing bases (coincidentally after or before announced industrial action), revoking company travel rights, removing flight-safety relevant crew augmentation agreements or depriving pilots of the basic right to strike by attempting to block this through a Court injunction. It may not be as bad as in Ukraine, where crew are not allowed to strike at all. But it’s not a rosy picture, either. And certainly, no longer limited to some isolated cases in the low-cost sector.

In Europe, we have seen them pulling out a renewed arsenal of union-busting tactics to undermine pilot unions and collective bargaining

It is a sad thing to see how airline managers turn their backs on their employees, the same employees who provide safe services every day. It will take years to rebuild that trust and stabilise industrial relations. By showing their true colours managers may hope for a quick win and are closing their eyes for the long-term negative effects.

Several of your fellow pilots have been dismissed, others may be facing charges for causing multi-million-euro damages by representing their colleagues. I take this as an opportunity to remind you about the existence of the ECA Pilot Unity fund, set as safety net for dismissed union representatives. Since its existence, many pilots have been supported by the Unity Fund after losing their jobs under such circumstances. In all these cases the support proved to be a lifeline for the pilots until they got back on their feet and found new employment. The support for the latest one has just been approved by the ECA Board.

While these industrial disputes have brought out the worst from some management teams, they’ve brought out the best from the pilot community. Unity among crew, financial contributions to the crowdfund and your firm support for your colleagues are truly impressive. Let’s continue on this path – together! 


by Capt. Otjan de Bruijn, ECA Vice-President