AUA announces austerity package details

Austrian Airlines (AUA) has confirmed plans to freeze staff’s wages.

Speculations about which measures new AUA chief Jaan Albrecht has in mind as part of his cost reduction strategy have made the rounds for some weeks. Now a spokesman for the company disclosed that the plan was to abolish terms in contracts which guaranteed employees automatic wage increases after having worked for the firm for some years.

Speaking to radio station Ö1 this morning (Thurs), company spokesman Martin Braun also said AUA employees would soon get lower compensatory sums in the case of a dismissal. He underlined that pilots would not be ordered to work more at unchanged salaries. Braun said the AUA board planned to make the airline more efficient by allowing pilots of affiliate Tyrolean Airways (Austrian Arrows) to operate larger planes.

Labour unionists and works council leaders stressed last week they were strictly against any further kind of cutbacks. Staff representatives said AUA’s workforce “contributed sufficiently” to the airline’s austerity strategy ever since it was taken over by the German Lufthansa Group. They claimed that employees already agreed to salary cuts of five per cent for five years shortly after Lufthansa acquired AUA.

The takeover was finalised in September 2009 after negotiations between AUA bosses and the chiefs of other airlines about a possible cooperation bore no fruit. While some analysts think Lufthansa was AUA’s final option before a certain bankruptcy, some commentators criticised that the Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) provided the Viennese carrier with half a billion Euros shortly before the deal was sealed.

AUA staff held an extraordinary summit at the carrier’s offices at Vienna International Airport (VIA, VIE) last week to discuss how to react to possibly upcoming austerity measures. Unionists refused to rule out a strike and cancelled two previously agreed meetings with the AUA board to highlight their disagreement with the envisaged steps.

Braun said today the AUA board – which consists of Albrecht, Peter Malanik and Andreas Bierwirth – was not spending a thought on how to react to strike threats. One day’s labour dispute would cost the struggling airline around 20 million Euros, according to Ö1. AUA, which has around 5,800 full-time employees, sustained a loss of nearly 65 million Euros each in the past two years. At the same time, the carrier managed to sell more tickets. AUA registered 10.5 million passengers in the first 11 months of 2011, up by nearly three per cent compared to the same period of 2010.

Albrecht recently warned that AUA “would crash against the wall” without intensified attempts to lower its losses. The ex-Star Alliance president called on Flughafen Wien AG (FW) – which manages VIA – to reduce charges and taxes. FW officials reacted by declaring their general willingness to discuss such measures but also made clear that all of the airlines which operated at VIA would benefit from possible decreases in the same way.

More than 21.1 million passengers were recorded at VIA in 2011, up from 19.7 million in 2010. Last year’s passenger figure meant a new record for Austria’s largest aerodrome which will put a fourth terminal in operation later this year. Especially connections to destinations in Eastern Europe (EE) were popular in 2011. EE-bound flights counted 14.9 per cent more customers in 2011 than in 2010, according to FW’s latest performance report.