AUA accord possible despite contract reform

Austrian Airlines (AUA) chiefs and works committee officials are fighting for a consensual solution regarding the planned austerity measures.

Lufthansa, which owns AUA since 2009, wants the Viennese aviation company to achieve savings of 220 million Euros this year following last year’s losses of almost 60 million Euros. The AUA supervisory board decided last week to declare the contracts of all pilots and cabin crew employees null and void.

AUA plans to save personnel costs of more than 40 million Euros by employing all pilots under contracts similar to the ones of Tyrolean Airways employees. Pilots of the regional carrier – which is part of the AUA Group – earn around 25 per cent less than their colleagues at AUA. Lufthansa bosses think that pilots of AUA must forgo automatic salary increases they benefit from every other year at the moment.

Around 1,000 AUA pilots gathered at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) yesterday (Mon) to hear from unionists and works committee chiefs which reaction they were planning to the cutbacks. Union leaders warned at the weekend that strikes could never be ruled out. But business dailies report today that they plan to gather with AUA leaders soon to find out whether a mutual agreement lies within the bounds of possibility.

Especially AUA board member Peter Malanik is allegedly interested in remaining on good terms with the AUA employees while AUA CEO Jaan Albrecht keeps opting for rather rough terms when it comes to describe the current situation of AUA. The German-Mexican businessman said unionists should cooperate “to avoid that AUA crashes against the wall”. The ex-Star Alliance boss underlined that he was in full support of the budget consolidation strategy of Lufthansa head Christoph Franz.

Albrecht said personnel costs must not rise up further. He made aware of such developments in the past years when AUA slashed its workforce level. Franz warned from seeing AUA as a “protected area”. He said Lufthansa would certainly not continue to subsidise its unprofitable affiliates indefinitely but also claimed being optimistic about AUA’s future.

Dozens of pilots are reportedly ready to leave AUA instead of accepting the planned wage cuts. While elderly pilots might opt for retirement, younger colleagues could be tempted to join the Arab region’s booming airlines. AUA currently employs 5,800 full-time employees. Around 600 of them are pilots. Another 1,500 work as stewards and stewardesses. The airline, which was established in 1957, recorded almost 11.3 million passengers in 2011.

Lufthansa fared significantly better than AUA in the past years but Europe’s leading carrier plans to cut its costs nevertheless. German papers report that the firm will cancel several connections to Asia. Another essential aspect of its austerity programme is to scrap some flights’ first class sections and offer more business and economy class tickets instead. These changes will be carried out in the coming two and a half years, according to the press. Reports also suggest that bosses decided to pull the plug on a planned fleet expansion.