Tyrolean Airways staff angered by ÖGB

The Federal Trade Union (ÖGB) has been accused of “betrayal”.

Dozens of Tyrolean Airways (Austrian Arrows) employees organised a demonstration outside the ÖGB’s Viennese headquarters yesterday (Tues) to make themselves heard. Works council officials complained that the ÖGB considered their firm as nothing but a pawn in the game as the feud between the executive board of Austrian Airlines (AUA) and the carrier’s pilots continues.

AUA owner Lufthansa wants the struggling Viennese airline to achieve savings of 220 million Euros this year. Jaan Albrecht, who has headed AUA since last November, wants to generate a third of the sum by lowering the airline’s personnel costs. Expenditure of this kind has kept climbing in the past years despite decreasing workforce levels.

Albrecht wants the 600 AUA pilots to work under contracts similar to those of Tyrolean Airways pilots – who earn 25 per cent less than their colleagues at AUA. Tyrolean Airways is part of the AUA Group. The carrier, which focuses on regional connections, was established in 1978. Many aviation experts consider the firm a role model for how to operate efficiently as the industry is going through significant changes.

Albrecht and his team decided to cancel the contracts of the 600 AUA pilots last month in what is seen as an attempt to accelerate the negotiations about cost reductions. The ÖGB controversially declared Tyrolean Airways pilots’ contracts null and void. ÖGB President Erich Foglar said he was trying to find a solution which was acceptable for all employees of the AUA Group. The ÖGB boss said one kind of contract for all staff was his preferred option. Tyrolean Airways works committee leaders said yesterday they had no trust in the union anymore.

The AUA works council recently suggested a package of savings to an extent of 47 million Euros to the executive board of AUA and the firm’s supervisory. Bosses rejected the set of measures which allegedly lacked long-term structural improvements. AUA – which made a loss of 59.4 million Euros in 2011 – is economically challenged despite improving passenger figures. AUA counted 11.26 million passengers last year, up by 3.4 per cent compared to 2010.

Experts and rivals claim that its fleet and contract system are inefficient and expensive. Former Tyrolean Airways CEO Fritz Feitl said in a recent Salzburger Nachrichten interview that political connections had always been of greater importance at AUA than managers’ expertise. Feitl headed Tyrolean Airways between 1982 and 2000.

Tyrolean Airways’ works council is considered as less muscular than representatives of AUA’s 6,000 employees. Observers expect these circumstances to have a decisive impact on the upcoming rounds of negotiations about salaries and contract details. Strikes are currently seen as a very unlikely event to occur due to the ongoing dispute.

Meanwhile, new figures show that the number of ÖGB members continues to dwindle. Viennese newspaper Die Presse reports that 1.2 million people were part of the union in 2011 – 5,200 fewer than in the year before. The latest development comes after a decline of 11,000 from 2009 to 2010.