No end to AUA argument

Austrian Airlines (AUA) keep up the fight against the executive board’s plans to cut their incomes.

AUA CEO Jaan Albrecht wants to introduce a new contract for the 600 pilots of the struggling carrier. The salary reform would mean a 25 per cent reduction of pilots’ wages. The new contracts would resemble the ones Tyrolean Airways pilots are working under for years. Tyrolean Airways is part of the AUA Group. The regional carrier was established in 1978. AUA – which was taken over by Lufthansa three years ago – started operating in 1957.

Albrecht appealed on the pilots’ council to agree to his plans to slash salaries as of 1 July. He said the reform was “vital” for AUA’s survival in an ever-changing world of aviation. The former Star Alliance chief said pilots must help to avoid a “crash against the wall” of AUA. Albrecht said chances for an economically healthy future of the airline would rise immensely if the 220-million-Euro savings package got the go-ahead from staff.

Now it emerged that the head of the board asked his team to prepare a reform of contracts of both AUA and Tyrolean Airways pilots to create one model for all. The decision – which was revealed by Austrian news radio programmes this morning (Weds) – comes only two days after it was disclosed that a majority of AUA pilots reject the initially planned restructuring of their contracts. Works committee officials called off a vote on the issue to avoid total chaos in the company.

Sources close to the pilots’ council of AUA – which lost around one billion Euros in the past 10 years – ensure that strikes are not an option the panel is considering. But unionists made clear that a labour conflict “can never be ruled out”.

More than 40 pilots left the carrier in the past weeks to avoid working under new contracts which mean lower incomes. Some of them are tipped to join Emirates. The prospering airline – which has its headquarters in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – employs 2,000 pilots. Ten per cent of them are Austrians. Former Lufthansa manager Thierry Antinori – who now works for Emirates – dismissed reports that the carrier created special offers for unhappy AUA pilots. He said: “We receive a large number of applications from pilots from all over the world.”

The AUA board ensured that the upcoming restructure procedures would not affect its passenger services in any way. Albrecht, who heads AUA since last November, said he was convinced that AUA could cope with a sudden departure of dozens of pilots. The works council warned that the board’s austerity plans could lead to such developments.

The works committee criticised the board for offering too few details about the new contracts – and suggested an annual 47-million-Euro savings package. AUA board bosses and the airline’s supervisory board rejected the works council’s proposals for lacking long-lasting improvements as far as the loss-making airline’s budgetary situation was concerned.