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Finnair in dispute with pilots over changes to working hours, daily allowances

The pilots' union argues that the company has violated the terms of the collective agreement by unilaterally making changes.

Ett Finnairflygplan parkerat på marken. I bakgrunden syns soluppgång.
Pilots and cabin crew are in dispute with Finnair over changes to work routines and the payment of daily allowances. Image: Alamy / All Over Press

Finland's national airline Finnair is in dispute with the Finnish Air Line Pilots' Association over changes the company made to pilots' working hours and per diem payments.

The airline is also facing a similar feud with the Transport Workers’ Union AKT, which represents cabin crew.

"At the moment, we have disagreements with Finnair over two issues," the pilots' union chair Pekka Erkama told Yle. "The first is that Finnair has cut the daily allowances of pilots and cabin crew staff. The second relates to a change in work routines, in which routines previously carried out during working hours have been transferred to leisure time. Finnair has made changes to both unilaterally, without negotiations."

Pilots signed a collective agreement in the spring, Erkama said, after which these changes were introduced by Finnair.

"It is a violation of both the pilots' employment contracts and the collective agreements," he said, adding that the per diem allowance has been paid under the collective agreement for decades, in accordance with the regulation established by the tax administration.

"This was changed unilaterally by the employer shortly after the conclusion of the collective agreement. For us, this must be agreed between the parties, and cannot be changed unilaterally," Erkama said.

The change to work routines means that a pilot's shift begins when they arrive at the gate to board the plane. For decades, according to Erkama, the practice has been that the pilots' work time also included coming to the airport, preparing for the flight in a preparation room, and boarding the plane through passport control and security checks.

This is clear from the employment contract, he added.

"Some of the routine is now transferred to the pilots' leisure time," he said. "These matters should have been the subject of co-determination negotiations, as is required for changes in employment contracts, and they have not taken place," Erkama said.

"The company is trying to make savings by transferring work tasks to leisure time."

Finnair: We fully comply with collective agreements

Jari Paajanen, Finnair's Vice President of Flight Operations, told Yle that the airline fully complies with the collective employment agreements of all personnel groups, including pilots.

"So we are following the collective agreement negotiated in the spring," Paajanen said.

He added that it is difficult to comment on the pilots' point of view, but he emphasised that Finnair is committed to complying with the collective agreement regarding both of the issues in dispute, working hours and the daily allowance payments.

"The daily allowance is still paid for additional expenses incurred during a business trip, such as meals. This is also in line with the tax administration's guidelines. We therefore fully comply with the records and policies of the collective agreement," Paajanen said.

The changes to the work routines have been made possible by a change in processes, he added, as cabin crew now check in at the departure gate or on the aircraft instead of as previously via the operations centre.

This is made possible by mobile devices and the digitalisation of the flight preparation process: crew can now prepare for a flight anywhere and no paperwork is needed. The operating model has been used in the past at all other destinations to which Finnair flies, and in Helsinki since the beginning of June.

"There has been no change in working hours - the pilot's working hours will continue to start 60 minutes before the departure time of the aircraft, as stated in the collective agreement. Instead, the work now begins in a different place than before," Paajanen explained. "Digital tools enable pilots to prepare for flights regardless of time and place."

Paajanen conceded that the need to make savings was a reason for the introduction of the changes.

"Finnair is in a rather critical state financially and we are examining very carefully various process changes and cost items that would bring us savings," he said, adding that the company does not feel that it is necessary to negotiate further on these issues.

"As an employer, we do not really see any reason to negotiate this. The issue has been addressed throughout the spring when the collective agreement was negotiated. Of course, we will continue the dialogue," he said, emphasising that the savings initiatives introduced during the last year and a half have all been agreed with the pilots.

"We have had big austerity programmes, and we have reached a consensus in all negotiations. We all hope for a rapid recovery of air traffic, which will enable pilots to return to work as quickly as possible," Paajanen said.

Pilots: Legal options are available

According to Erkama of the pilots' union, commercial pilots are currently investigating the legality of Finnair's interpretations and actions by "legal means".

"We start from the fact that things will be resolved along legal routes and solutions will be found on how to act in this situation. I’m not going to go into more detail about what these are," he said.

"An opinion has been requested from the Labour Council [an independent special authority under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment] on the working time issue. We will move forward with the other things when we are ready. The company didn’t want to negotiate these things, so we won’t be able to take things further with them," Erkama said, adding that so far the pilots have been flexible and ready to reach agreements.

Story continues after the photo.

Lentosimulaattori. Finnairin koulutuskeskus.
File photo of a Finnair pilot simulation training programme. Image: Jorge Gonzalez / Yle
It has always been possible to agree on areas to make savings, when necessary, he said.

"Significant savings and flexibility have been agreed during the coronavirus crisis, which has enabled Finnair to operate under these exceptional circumstances. The latest collective agreement also includes structural changes that will enable the company to operate after the crisis. The aviation industry is going through a historical crisis and it is understandable that the airlines' finances are tight. Savings are sought everywhere," Erkama said, adding that Finnair's actions in this situation have "undermined confidence in the company" as a negotiating partner.

Cabin crew also challenge changes

According to the AKT union, which represents flight attendants and stewards, Finnair is also violating the terms of their collective agreement that is valid until January 2022.

The union has challenged the airline on this issue and it will be resolved by the Labour Court.

According to Finnair's new interpretation of the terms of the agreement, per diem allowance is paid to cabin crew only when they stay overnight at the destination. Crew do not receive daily allowances for domestic flights, nor from flights to European destinations if they do not stay overnight, according to Marianne Arteva of Finnish Cabin Crew Association (SLSY).

The reason for the change is a new process in which working hours are recorded using mobile devices, Eveliina Huurre, Vice President of Finnair's Inflight Experience, told Yle.

This is the source of the dispute, Huurre added.

The collective agreement for cabin crew is valid until January 2022. The collective agreement for pilots was signed in April and is valid for three and a half years.

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