“A feast in times of plague”
© Adobe Stock
© Adobe Stock
I was among the 1000 people recently fired by WIZZAIR due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I have been working in the aviation industry for more than 15 years, flying for many companies in different countries. Each airline has its own rules and policy for their pilots as well as different salaries and benefits.
I’ve seen a lot. But nothing comes close to how Wizz fired me and 300 other pilots in April. For those of you who don’t know much about Wizzair – it’s a Hungarian low-cost airline, the brainchild of a former CEO of Hungary’s national carrier Malév.
It was one of the airlines that went into the crisis with strong liquidity and aggressive expansion plans, including network and fleet growth for both its mainline and UK operations and the launch of a brand-new Abu Dhabi based AOC.
It all started at the beginning of the COVID19 crisis, initially the company, organised several video-meetings with us and the managers, re-assuring us that Wizz is a very strong and solid company.
The message was clear: we as staff should not be worried in case of a European-wide lockdown or reduction of the flight activity. The company has cash reserves that would allow it to weather the storm and stay grounded for at least 6 to 12 months.
Just several weeks later, towards the end of March, the message to staff changed drastically. As almost all destinations were closed and the planes grounded, the company told us there would be a 25% pay cut from our basic salary in April, which is already quite low. Our salary is composed of basic pay and productivity pay (flying). Contrary to many other airlines, Wizz has a low basic pay and we must count on the hours in the air to actually earn our wage. COVID meant not only a cut in the basic pay but no hours in the air either.
The company told us there would be a 25% pay cut from our basic salary in April: take-it-or-leave-it
Then things got even grimmer. Right after signing the official take-it-or-leave-it salary reduction contract addendum, we all received an email telling us to expect some important changes that will affect some of us. There was no mention of what the nature of these ‘changes’ would be. We all got worried.
On April 14, a manager announced Wizzair had decided to make 1000 employees “redundant”, and that they will base their decision on who the ‘lucky’ people would be on “performance factors” – but without giving details on how this performance would be calculated. Make of that what you want…
Usually, when an airline downsizes, the most common criterion is the seniority of the staff members (from the job contract’s starting date). The thinking behind it is that crew have built already substantial experience and contributed to the success of the company.
Other criteria, specific to aviation, are employee productivity and proficiency (i.e. the amount of official warnings or grievances received e.g. due to being late for checking-in for a flight, not adhering to company’s Operational Manuals, not conducting flights according to the company policy).
However, none of these criteria have been applied. Instead, – through an FAQ circulated – we’d find out that the criteria for pilots include willingness to work on days off, taking on additional roles, absence/sickness history... These criteria are questionable. No reputable airline would use these.
The criteria for pilots include willingness to work on days off, taking on additional roles, absence/sickness history...
The resulting “black lists” were then established by base Captains and regional Managers locally, who have decided to fire people, on “likes” and “dislikes”.
As a result, many pilots like me, experienced pilots with many flight hours (quite often even more experienced than the base captains and regional managers who fired us), were dismissed despite their excellent “records”. If an airline doesn’t value experience and performance of its crew, but prefers to keep pilots who are willing to work on their days off, or who potentially show up sick for work, then I wonder what place that airline has in this safety-critical business.
If an airline doesn’t value experience and performance of its crew, I wonder what place that airline has in this safety-critical business.
The COVID-19 crisis is dealing a huge blow to aviation worldwide. I do understand that bankruptcies and redundancies are going to happen not just to me, but to thousands of other colleagues. But the least you would expect from your company is respect, clear communication, fairness and transparency.
Just a few days after the announced wave of dismissals, Wizzair confirmed the arrival of 15 new Airbuses this year, the opening of a new Operational Base in Lviv (Ukraine), some new routes to/from Greece and the new opening of the Abu Dhabi Operational Base (operating under a new Air Operator Certificate), as well as the expected return to growth after summer…
This further expansion is a slap in the face of those who have taken a pay cut and those – now unemployed. It is a feast in times of plague*.
* “A Feast in Time of Plague” is an 1830 play by Aleksandr Pushkin.