Monday, November 13, 2017

Avianca pilot strike ends after 51-day walkout

The pilot strike against Colombian flag carrier Avianca ended Nov. 10 after a 51-day walkout, the airline reported, with both parties agreeing to participate in an arbitration tribunal to be convened by Colombia’s ministry of labor. Striking pilots were expected to return to work Nov. 13.

The strike, which began Sept. 20, involved 730 pilots represented by the Colombian Association of Civil Aviators (ACDAC)—over half of Avianca Colombia’s flying staff—and made a “severe” impact on Colombia and the airline, Avianca said.

“Avianca regrets the delay in the ACDAC union’s decision to end its illegal cessation of activities, but is pleased that the situation was resolved for the benefit of the country as a whole,” the airline said in a statement. “Moving forward, Avianca and the ACDAC pilots will take full advantage of the appropriate legal vehicles currently in place to resolve the outstanding labor dispute and any other issues in the future.”

In September, Avianca declared the strike illegal based on its interpretation of Colombian laws. At the time, Avianca said that while the right to strike is guaranteed by the Colombian constitution, it is not guaranteed for essential public services. The company cited a public law, saying transportation is an essential public service—“therefore, the strike called by ACDAC is illegal [and] should [the pilots] follow through, the airline will take the corresponding disciplinary measures.”

In response, ACDAC president Jaime Hernandez said commercial aviation “is not an essential public service, so there is no illegality in this strike.”

According to Colombia Focus, there was considerable pressure to end the strike after the Supreme Court of Bogota’s October decision declaring the work stoppage illegal, citing the critical infrastructure aspect of air transportation in Colombia. Any work stoppage lasting longer than 60 days would allow Avianca to fire the pilots, according to the ruling, and with the 60-day mark—Nov. 18—fast approaching, the ACDAC pilots agreed.

Now that the strike has ended, Avianca said it will reincorporate each ACDAC union pilot into its crew after each pilot agrees to comply with “the appropriate disciplinary measures” and expects to gradually return to normal operations.

On Nov. 13, Avianca Holdings—which, in addition to Avianca Cargo operations, covers passenger operations in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and several Central American countries—posted drastic drops in its October operational results. Consolidated passenger numbers in October were down 25% year-over-year (YOY), with consolidated traffic showing a 14.8% YOY decline and capacity decrease of 15.3%. Avianca’s domestic market saw a 37.1% drop in traffic, met by a 32% capacity decrease, forcing load factors on the domestic market to increase 6.6 points to 88.2%. Avianca’s international market fared moderately better, with traffic down 10.5% YOY as capacity withdrew 9.6% and load factors came in at 83.8%, down 0.9 point YOY. Prensa Latina said more than 13,000 flights were canceled during the 51-day strike.

In September, Avianca said it had presented more than 20 proposals to ACDAC leaders to improve pilot benefits, which were rejected by ACDAC. In April 2017, Avianca reached an incremental 11.75% salary and benefits package agreement with the Avianca Aviators Association, which represents the rest of the airline’s pilots.

“Unfortunately, [ACDAC] aspires to a global salary increase of 60%, which is far removed from the financial reality of the company,” Avianca said in a Sept. 20 statement.

Avianca and ACDAC have not had a direct agreement since 2013. The pilots represented by ACDAC are Colombian, not international, pilots and as national workers, do not receive the same wages as international workers, the union said.

Avianca Holdings financial report covering the 2017 third quarter will be released Nov. 15.

(Mark Nensel - ATWOnline News)

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