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Pilots face contract ultimatum

Cloudy outlook: the dispute concerning Swiss pilots is far from being resolved

(Keystone)

Swiss European Air Lines pilots who are refusing to sign new contracts have been told they will lose their jobs if they don't sign by the end of the year.

Swiss Pilots, the union representing former Crossair pilots, said on Sunday that the pilots would be forced to accept "significantly worse working conditions".

Swiss European came into operation on November 1 and is the regional carrier of Swiss International Air Lines (Swiss).

Swiss said it would dismiss around 300 pilots from its European fleet if they didn't accept new job contracts by the end of the year.

The new contracts are part of a restructuring plan by Swiss aimed at stemming losses that reached SFr1.9 billion ($1.45 billion) since its 2002 creation from bankrupt Swissair Group and regional carrier Crossair.

Since then Swiss has been involved in disputes with former Crossair pilots who want the same pay and conditions as their ex-Swissair colleagues.

Ultimatum

Swiss CEO Christoph Franz and chief operating officer Manfred Brennwald sent a letter to the relevant pilots on December 22.

The letter said the pilots would "definitely have no work at Swiss European as of April 1" if they didn't submit the new contracts by December 31.

Franz said four out of five of the 300 pilots assigned to the carrier had not sent back signed contracts.

He added that he was prepared to start hiring new pilots in January.

Elle Steinbrecher, spokeswoman for Swiss, said Swiss European was aiming within a year to operate with around 225 full-time pilots and a fleet of 24 planes.

She said this would be achieved without redundancies through natural fluctuation.

Non-negotiable

Swiss Pilots, which said it had obtained about 80 per cent of the pilots' new contracts, hoped to get as many contracts as possible in order to force the airline's management to resume aborted talks over a collective labour agreement.

But Swiss management said in the letter sent to the pilots that "given that talks over several months failed to come up with concrete results, we'll sort out the final working conditions at the individual level".

"That wouldn't change, even if Swiss Pilots obtained more than 80 per cent of the contracts."

The management added that Swiss isn't open for solutions including a collective agreement or a return to the negotiation table.

In July Swiss temporarily suspended 52 pilots on the grounds that their anxiety about their future with the company could affect cockpit safety.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Swiss European Air Lines was cleared by the Federal Civil Aviation Office to start operations on November 1.
Swiss was formed in 2002 out of the merger of regional carrier Crossair and Swissair, which collapsed in 2001.
Since then Swiss has been involved in disputes with former Crossair pilots who want the same pay and conditions as their ex-Swissair colleagues.
Lufthansa announced in March that it would take over Swiss.

end of infobox

In brief

Swiss had 133 aircraft and 10,000 full-time positions when it took to the skies on March 31, 2002.

In its first year of operations, the company recorded a SFr980-million loss. This was followed by losses of SFr687 million in 2003 and SFr140 million last year.

After different restructuring measures, Swiss now has 82 aircraft and approximately 6,500 full-time positions.

end of infobox


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