Brussels Airlines cabin crew give notice of indefinite strike action

Brussels Airlines cabin crew give notice of indefinite strike action
Credit: Belga

Cabin crew of Brussels Airlines have announced an indefinite strike from 23 November.

The exact timing of the strike is not yet known, but "staff are targeting the Christmas holidays", according to the Flemish trade union ACV Puls. "It's no picnic for passengers. But it's not the workers' fault, it's the employer's."

Didier Lebbe, the Permanent Secretary of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (CNE), stated on Friday that the company's disregard for some collective labour agreements was a key reason behind the strike, including instances of management bypassing trade union consultation before publishing staff timetables. "This was the final straw," Lebbe said.

Workers also deplored the fact that the wage agreements concluded at the time of the restructuring in 2020, when almost 1,000 of the approximately 4,000 employees had to leave the company, are still in force even though the company recently reported a return to profit.

'Feeling of betrayal'

"Many cabin crew, particularly older staff, are voicing their feeling of betrayal in the restructuring," explained the permanent secretary of the CNE.

"They were urged to accept lower wages to prevent the airline's bankruptcy at the onset of the crisis. Management told them they could not expect the sector to return to growth before 2025. But that happened in 2022. We are in 2023, and staff are working strenuously for crisis-level wages, as the company boasts of profits unseen for years."

At the start of November, the carrier reported a 10% increase in revenue in the third quarter, amounting to €478 million, compared to €436 million for the same period the previous year – marking the company's most profitable summer ever. The Lufthansa subsidiary is expecting to achieve record annual results in 2023 and is aiming for profitability in the final quarter.

Unions, including ACV Puls/CNE-CSC, ACLVB/CGSLB and BBTK/Setca, are also demanding respect for signed agreements; key areas include the promotion process for flight chiefs and management's refusal to discuss the drafting of work regulations and failure to comply with federal law on the right to disconnect.

Lebbe points out that, after axing a quarter of its workforce three years ago, the company is now recognising its shortage of air stewards and stewardesses. "This is a job for which you need to be properly trained to ensure passenger safety, and the responsibility for a flight may sometimes extend beyond typical 8 to 9-hour shifts."

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When it published its quarterly results at the beginning of the month, Brussels Airlines said it planned to recruit around 360 new employees in 2024. Currently, the company employs around 3,400 staff.

The airline's cabin crew last went on strike in December 2021 and June 2022 over excessive workload following the 2020 restructuring. After travel restrictions eased post-Covid lockdowns, customer demand surged, resulting in about 700 flight cancellations that summer to lighten the load.

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