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Unions slam the board of Swiss

Many people are scratching their heads over the future of Swiss Keystone

Trade unions and associations representing staff at the airline Swiss have condemned the company’s decision to cut up to 1,000 jobs and trim the regional fleet.

They said the board of directors was not capable of making clear and important decisions about the airline’s future.

Unions complained that the company’s board was trying to make them take decisions instead of taking responsibility itself.

Daniel Vischer, a parliamentarian who represents the union of public service employees, commented that with its indecision, the board had shown that it did not have the courage to correct mistakes which had characterised the company since its founding.

He said that the position of the regional fleet had never clearly been defined since Swiss was formed from Crossair and the collapsed Swissair.

Possible solution

Vischer added that a possible solution would be to separate the regional fleet from the rest of the airline, as other airlines had done.

The association of former Swissair pilots, Aeropers, said it was “disappointed” by the news, while the union representing cabin staff, Kapers, accused the board of pushing strategic decisions onto staff associations.

“But that is not our job,” argued Kapers president Urs Eicher.

He complained that the unions were being pushed into a corner to solve the problems of Swiss, particularly regarding salaries and collective contracts.

He added that employees had been made “scapegoats” for problems at Swiss.

Christian Frick, president of the association representing former Crossair cockpit staff, Swiss Pilots, said that the board had shown no far-sightedness with its “alibi exercise”.

“After our ideas to lower costs were thrown out, we expect concrete information next week about the restructuring,” he said.

Lower salaries?

Media reports over the weekend claimed that the airline’s management was planning to create a separate company to run its European operations with lower salaries, but the airline did not take that step.

However, it said on Tuesday that it planned more cost-cutting talks with unions.

“Cost savings are… expected through the imminent negotiation of the collective labour agreements,” the company reported.

The airline also announced that as part of measures to try to cut another SFr300 million ($253 million) a year in costs from 2007, it would focus operations on its Zurich hub.

It added that it would downgrade its operations at Geneva and Basel, with partner operations taking over those flights.

Minimal impact

The airports concerned did not have any strong reactions. Both Geneva and Basel airports said the impact on them would only be minimal if Swiss flights were taken over by partner airlines.

Geneva airport spokesman Philippe Roy said that Cointrin would only lose two or three flights, while spokeswoman Vivienne Gaskell in Basel said that Swiss only had a 15 per cent market share there.

Zurich airport authorities said they had no comment to make on the choice of their customers.

Political parties generally welcomed the move but the Social Democrats “deeply regretted” it, arguing that changing direction permanently had “dramatic consequences” for staff.

Analysts and experts had plenty to say about the need for rationalisation measures within the company.

But analyst Jérôme Schupp at Syz & Co warned that Swiss would lose some of its attractiveness, and further cost-cutting measures could not be ruled out.

At St Gallen University, Professor Thomas Bieger cautioned the company not to concentrate solely on its long-haul fleet.

He argued that Swiss needed to bring in transit passengers to fill its long-haul flights.

swissinfo with agencies

Recent developments at Swiss:

March 31, 2002: Swiss is formed around the regional airline Crossair. It has 133 planes, of which 26 are medium- and 26 long-haul aircraft of the collapsed Swissair. It employs a staff of around 12,000.

November 19, 2002: Swiss announces the withdrawal of eight aircraft and cuts 300 jobs.

February 25, 2003: Faced with a strong drop in European demand, Swiss reduces its fleet to 112 aircraft. About 700 more job cuts are announced.

March 25, 2003: After a loss of almost SFr1 billion in 2002, Swiss reduces its order of Brazilian Embraer planes from 60 to 30.

June 24, 2003: Under its new business plan, Swiss announces that 3,000 more jobs have to go from the remaining 9,000. The fleet is reduced to 18 long-haul, 21 medium-haul and 35 regional aircraft.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR