An El Al airliner..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The labor dispute between El Al and its pilots seems far from being resolved, as another pilot has called in sick before a transatlantic flight. The most recent event in the work-torule “Italian strike” orchestrated by the El Al’s pilot’s committee has propelled representatives of both sides into a blame game regarding issues that first surfaced in 2014.
“First of all, let’s not call it a strike yet,” Avi Edri, chairman of the National Transportation Workers Union, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “Whether or not this can legally be defined as a strike has not been determined yet by the [Tel Aviv] Labor Court which is reviewing the dispute.”
The dispute has been going on irregularly since 2014 in the so-called “Italian strike,” where instead of refusing to work, staff intentionally slow business and disrupt productivity.
The strike escalated on Monday, when pilot after pilot reported sick or refused to answer the phone in order to avoid being assigned on Flight 007 to New York’s JFK Airport. Since Monday, several flights – to Beijing, Hong Kong, Brussels and Newark – were canceled due to pilots’ refusal to fly.
Management says the dispute was reignited by the new “pilot law” set to go into effect in 2018. The law will impose restrictions on airlines and their pilots, including on the maximum number of flight hours for pilots per work year.
According to data released by El Al in July, its pilots earn up to NIS 97,000 a month. The average monthly salary for the year 2015- 2016 is NIS 61,000, and the proportion of pilots who earn more than NIS 90,000 a month increased in the past year to 30%.
Management additionally said this week that the pilot’s strike is illegal and in breach of the current collective work agreement, in force until 2018. “The actions taken by El Al pilots are an attempt to pressure El Al in order to gain better terms in the negotiations for a new collective agreement,” a representative of management stated.
CEO David Maimon published a direct appeal to the pilots on Tuesday, saying that El Al has restrained itself so far in dealing with the strikers. “No more. The disruptions have reached the point of no return, and are jeopardizing the livelihood of the company’s employees. I have decided to put an end to this immoral and uncontrolled behavior, which is harming the entire company.
I demand that the pilots return to full work immediately,” he wrote.
Edri told the Post, however, that “it is El Al who is in breach of the collective agreement, by not giving pilots the rest times they are due according to the work agreement and even punishing them when they claim their right not to fly in both directions without rest.”
“The pilot’s law is a completely separate issue and has no connection to this one; the law isn’t even in effect yet and we’ll address it when it does,” he said.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz went so far as to describe the events unfolding at El Al as a tragedy, while speaking at the annual Civil Aviation Conference, held by the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya on Wednesday.
“What is happening to the El Al company is a tragedy,” he said. “Everyone involved must end this conflict and preserve the asset of public trust for Israeli companies. Maintaining loyalty and quality is key – a customer who leaves does not return.”
With the sides apparently unable to compromise, it is doubtful whether a solution can be reached before the labor court determines the legal status of the steps taken by pilots and the legal standing of both sides according to their work agreement.
Representatives of El Al management could not be reached for comment on Edri’s assertions.