As “low-cost airlines” activity picks up, pilots and flight attendants in France are mobilizing to demand better salaries and better working conditions after two years of efforts to cushion the losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Ryanair, Volotea, Vueling: In France, strike announcements at low-cost airlines have multiplied in recent weeks.
“Given the efforts we have made during the Covid-19, we are waiting for a fair return,” said Jean Patrikainen, union representative of the National Union of Airline Pilots (SNPL) at Ryanair. Last year, the Irish company’s pilots agreed to cut their wages by 20% in a bid to overcome the crisis in the aviation sector. But “now we’re back to normal operations,” says Jean Patrikainen, who is calling for “an accelerated recovery of our salaries.” The agreement signed with management sees a very gradual recovery, with a return to normal expected in 2025. An “unacceptable” pace given the “very strong recovery” expected by CEO Michael O’Leary.
Wage cuts in the crisis
After threatening to strike on Saturday (67% of pilots had declared a strike), SNPL lifted the announcement on Thursday after management promised to start talks after months of silence. At Volotea, a Spanish low-cost airline, the strike will continue for this weekend. “Conditions have steadily deteriorated over the past two years,” describes Christophe Hannot, union representative of the SNPL.
However, “at the beginning I think it is important for everyone that the employees adapt to the situation,” he says. The captains agreed to cut their salaries by 25% and the co-pilots by 10%.
The measure ended earlier this year, but management spoke up again in March, demanding another pay cut. “Only that the prospects for 2022 already far exceed the figures for 2019,” says Christophe Hannot indignantly. “I think that (the ‘cheap’ companies) took advantage of the Covid-19 to further worsen working conditions and to do this famous social dumping,” the pilot continues. The SNPL is therefore calling for “a reassessment of base pay, an increase in night hours and fixed flight schedules” with the end of the imposed changes 24 or 48 hours before a flight.
The cabin crew is also on strike
Volotea’s management did not want to react. It only specifies that it is “doing everything possible to reduce the impact of the strike movement on its company as much as possible”.
At the moment only 14 pilots (out of a hundred) have declared a strike. But the cabin crew (PNC, hostesses and stewards) have also resigned.
The movement should be “massively persecuted,” says Alizée Bonaure, union representative at SNPNC. In the Marseille and Strasbourg bases, 100% of the staff went on strike, she assures.
Last Saturday, a similar movement at Ryanair severely disrupted traffic, with delays of up to 10 hours and a canceled flight between Bordeaux and Marseille, according to the unions. “The company had sent five planes, based in Poland and Lithuania, to replace the striking crews,” explains SNPNC’s Damien Mourgues. Like the pilots, Ryanair’s cabin crew have put their move on hold after beginning talks with management.
The same applies to Vueling, where management agreed to a gross salary increase of 150 euros for all employees with at least one year of service in the face of the threat of strikes. An action approved by a short head (52.4%) of employees during an electronic vote.