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Finnair to extend furloughs to March 2021

The airline has temporarily laid off large numbers of cabin crew, but some pilots have been reassigned to cargo flights.

Kuvassa on Finnairin lentokoneita toukokuussa Helsinki-Vantaan lentokentällä. Koneet ovat maassa koronaviruspandemian vuoksi.
The airline said that passenger volumes in May were nearly 98 percent lower than the same time last year. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

National carrier Finnair has said that it intends to extend a programme of temporary layoffs caused by the coronavirus crisis to the end of March 2021. The announcement came following the conclusion of codetermination talks on Friday. The talks involved a total of around 6,100 employees in Finland.

The airline said it estimated that it would operate about 30 percent of the normal number of flights in July, ramping up to roughly 70 percent by the end of the year. In May, the airline carried 26,700 passengers -- a decline of 97.9 percent compared to the same period last year.

Finnair cited the decline in passenger numbers as the reason for continuing the furloughs through the upcoming winter season until the end of March next year. The temporary layoffs will likely vary in length depending on the unit and roles involved. They may also be fixed term, or may be implemented as shorter work weeks or they may last indefinitely.

"For the moment there is no immediate work for everyone, because it will take a long time for flights to return to previous levels," Finnair communications chief Päivyt Tallqvist said.

"I would like to clarify however, that no one has been furloughed until the end of March 2021. Furloughs will be implemented based on the work that is available. The amount of work will be increased gradually as airline travel recovers. If that recovery is faster than anticipated, we will naturally call people back to work," Tallqvist added.

Union: Furlough decision "one-sided"

The temporary layoffs have affected cabin crews -- flight attendants and stewards -- more than pilots. According to the Finnish Cabin Crew Association (SLSY), not even half of cabin crews will be back on the job by next March.

"Personnel are being furloughed quite widely and the employer has provided a one-sided report stating that they will not be evenly distributed among staff. The employer has chosen those who will be furloughed according to some criteria," SLSY chair Jari Toivonen commented.

Cabin staff have previously been at odds with Finnair over its decision to hire cheaper foreign workers on newly-established routes while temporarily laying off other staff.

"They are working on the basis of less secure job contracts. This is eroding working conditions. We would hope that the employer would give up the use of external labour via subcontractors. That would provide more work for Finnair’s own employees," the union boss added.

However Finnair said that the furloughs are not related to using outsourced labour, rather a decision to respect the terms and conditions of agreements signed with subcontractors.

Pilots flying cargo flights

Pilots have also been unevenly affected by the temporary layoffs. Pilots skilled in flying certain types of aircraft and operating certain routes have more work than others. For example there are many cargo flights being operated at the moment.

"There are different transport needs," Finnish Pilots’ Association (FPA) chair Akseli Meskanen said.

Finnair said that it will draw up more detailed plans for the furloughs in the weeks ahead. It reiterated that no individual workers will be out of work until the end of March next year, but noted that the system of temporary layoffs will depend on the work available.

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