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Union slams Finnair plan to keep 100 cabin crew, furlough nearly 2k others

The Transport Workers' Union said that workers feel the approach to selecting people for duty was not even-handed.

Kuvassa on Finnairin lentokoneita toukokuussa Helsinki-Vantaan lentokentällä. Koneet ovat maassa koronaviruspandemian vuoksi.
The global pandemic has seen Finnair dramatically scale back flights. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

The Transport Workers’ Union (AKT) says it is opposed to a plan by national airline Finnair to retain a core group of 100 cabin crew, while temporarily laying off 1,900 others from the beginning of October.

The union, which represents cabin crew personnel, noted that last week Finnair announced the plan to furlough the nearly 2,000 workers indefinitely from early October.

However the furloughs will not affect a group of 100 cabin crew staff who will be offered work every month. According to the union, employees feel that the selection of core workers was not equitable.

"We have taken age into account [in the collective bargaining agreement] so there is no need for older workers to be on call, for example. Now the employer has announced that people who cannot be on call will not be among the first to get work. These workers must therefore give up their collective agreement right to not be on call," chair of the Finnish Cabin Crew Association Jari Toivonen.

Toivonen said that the union, which is a branch of the AKT, has received a great deal of feedback from workers who feel they have to break with the collective agreement in order to get work.

Cabin crew staff also want Finnair to explain the order in which they will be called back to work. The furloughs announced last week are indefinite, meaning that 1,900 workers will be kept waiting for the phone to ring, Toivonen added.

"Our collective bargaining agreement has a certain order for terminations, but we do not have one for furloughs and that is making the situation difficult. Some will end up waiting years to get back to work while others will return earlier. It is also problematic that we haven’t been given any insight into the order in which invitations to return to work will come," the union head said.

Finnair: Availability central to planning layoffs

Travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have caused Finnair to radically scale back flight schedules compared to its competitors. The airline currently operates between 80 and 90 daily flights, down from 350 one year ago.

The national carrier said that temporary layoffs are necessary, because there simply isn’t sufficient work to go around. It also pointed out that all Finnair employees will be furloughed in stages. It told Yle via email that it considered employees’ qualifications and availability when it planned the layoffs.

It used the term qualifications to refer to special expertise that it said could include skills used in supervisory roles, training skills or special know-how accumulated by staff working in long-haul business class. However it said that staff members’ educational backgrounds were not considered in the process.

Finnair said that there is a relatively high degree of on-call work in situations where there is little work to be offered. As a result, it said that it paid special attention to employees’ availability. "Employees can choose their hours of work at Finnair. In June we announced that as the number of flights declined, the quantity of work on hand would also be reduced and the importance availability would increase. In this regard, everyone still had an opportunity to change their hours of work or groups," it explained via email.

Two weeks ago Finnair announced the start of co-determination talks aimed at eliminating 1,000 jobs and implementing additional furloughs as a result of the pandemic.

No permanent job cuts for pilots

It said however, that there were no plans for permanent job cuts for pilots in Finland and that staff would return to work as soon as the number of flights increased.

Finnair has also been engaged in negotiations aimed at reining in costs in a bid to weather the crisis. However AKT said that those discussions only offered cabin crews the option of reducing salaries and otherwise watering down the terms of the sector’s collective bargaining agreement.

"We have been negotiating with Finnair for a week and a half. The only counteroffer has been a half-baked incentive scheme. Not a single proposal put forward by the employee representative has been well-received by the employer," AKT salaries official Johanna Tuomaala said in a statement.

The union said that some employers believe that the coronavirus pandemic can be used to invoke a crisis clause in collective bargaining agreements to force employee representatives to negotiate and agree to poorer terms and conditions of work.

She pointed out that the most important task of workers’ unions is to improve their members’ terms of work, rather than to undermine them.

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