First to enter the dance, the pilots and cabin crew of Brussels Airlines, who will sit back on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, resulting in the cancellation of 315 flights.
Nearly 40,000 people are affected by these canceled flights while the Belgian airline had more than 500 flights planned for the next three days.
Social conflict has been brewing within Brussels Airlines, which has been part of the Lufthansa group for several months. A first movement was carried out in December, with a 24-hour strike, aimed at denouncing a too high workload for the staff. However, the load has since increased with a strong recovery in post-Covid tourism, which companies and airports have to deal with, relieved of a number of staff members, who left to work elsewhere during the shutdown of the air sector during the health crisis. .
Result: an exhausted staff, which asks that its load be lightened. “People are already tired just seeing their schedules,” said Didier Lebbe, CNE permanent secretary.
From then on, the union common front (CNE, Setca, CGSLB and their Flemish counterparts) filed an indefinite strike notice for the stewards and hostesses, as well as for the pilots of Brussels Airlines.
“Management recognizes that there are too few staff to ensure the scheduled flights during the months of July, August and September,” explained the unions when they announced the strike. According to them, the company wanted to “buy out” this shortage with a premium. “The flight crew never asked for money to solve their problems but asked for structural interventions that will ensure the future of the company and its workers,” retort the trade unions.
It also appears that the flight personnel were not paid correctly and that the work schedule was again published too late, still criticizes the common front, which questions the functioning of management within the carrier.
The pilots also denounce the non-indexation of their cafeteria plan (budget for extra-legal benefits), negotiated as part of a new collective labor agreement following the coronavirus crisis and the restructuring that affected Brussels Airlines in 2020. The company then separated a quarter of its staff (around 1,000 workers out of 4,000) and reduced its fleet by 30%.
According to the three unions, nothing has been done to resolve the issues raised since last summer and the situation has not improved, while the company has had a year to act.
The airline retorts that it has taken a “series of initiatives” to lighten the workload of operational departments during this “exceptional” summer. The company for example canceled 148 flights which caused heavy combinations of flights, she illustrates. It also recruited 225 additional cabin crew members and reduced heavy flight resolutions.
She deplores this action, which leads to the cancellation of 315 flights and which will force the company to review its growth plans. The strike will have a “very significant” impact on the company’s results as it comes at a key time for the airline industry, she warns.
Sign of the tensions between the unions and the management of Brussels Airlines, the CNE and the Setca introduced Wednesday, on the eve of this action, a complaint to the Social Inspectorate for obstruction of the right to strike. At issue: the interpretation of social legislation. Could staff members be considered on strike as of Wednesday? Some workers have indeed started the strike earlier, to avoid long-haul or too late flights preventing them from participating in the protest movement. For the unions, they were entitled to do so because an indefinite strike notice was filed. Brussels Airlines considers that the strike does not begin until Thursday.
Brussels Airlines is not the only one to be confronted with a strike movement as the holidays approach. The low-cost airline Ryanair will thus have to deal with a European strike by its staff. Pilots and cabin crew based in Belgium will strike from June 24 to 26.