Labor dispute at Czech Airlines

CSA pilots, photo: CTK

In this week's economics report we take a look at the current labor dispute at the national air carrier Czech Airlines (CSA). As if the war in Iraq and the fear of SARS around the world isn't enough to shrink business for airlines, CSA now has to deal with a labor dispute between management and the pilots' association. The dispute between the two parties took a turn for the worse last Wednesday when pilots' commenced a work slow-down because of a deadlock in negotiations. The major roadblock is the issue of new contracts for CSA pilots', the pilots' association is asking for individual contracts for each pilot where the management of CSA is only offering one contract which would cover all the employees of Czech Airlines.

CSA pilots,  photo: CTK
I spoke to Czech airlines spokesperson Daniel Plovajko and asked him first, what was the current state of negotiations between the management of CSA and the pilots' association.

"The current state of negotiations has slowed down because we haven't found a way to go further. There was a meeting at the Ministry of Labour on Monday which didn't solve anything so we agreed that we would meet again in the future. Both sides are supporting their own proposals and their own way of negotiating so there has been no room for compromise so far."

To what extent has the labour dispute affected flights?

"The obstructions from the pilots' side, which started Wednesday last week, caused delays on almost 50 percent of all flights of Czech Airlines, on average 20 to 30 minutes per flight."

Has there been a decline in passengers because of the dispute?

"So far we haven't experienced a decline in the number of passengers but of course we are getting complaints from passengers because we know that delays in the airline industry are so inconvenient and cause troubles for our passengers. We are currently trying to do our best to minimise obstructions from the pilots' side and cut-down the delay's as much as possible, we do apologise a lot."

How much to you think the delay's could cost Czech Airlines in the end?

"It would depend how long the obstructions from the pilots side go on and to what scale they are on. But currently we can count the costs to be in the hundreds of thousands of Czech crowns."

Is there any indications of how long the labour dispute could last or is there a possibility of a strike by pilots?

"A strike is not possible at this particular moment because of the trade union negotiation law. That's why the pilots' are now carrying out obstructions because they can not use the strike option."

How does Czech Airlines see the dispute, do you think it will last a long time?

"It depends on the pilots, we have repeatedly declared that we are ready to negotiate but negotiate only one trade union contract for all our employees, because that's what the law says."

I also spoke to Josef Kraus, who represents the CZALPA pilots' association. He illustrated the negotiation process a little differently.

"Well at this time we're not really negotiating, its basically at a deadlock. Our position is that we would like to have our own collective bargaining which we have had for years and years and their position is that they have changed the rules of the game in the middle of the game and they would like to have, meaning the management of CSA, one collective bargaining agreement for all the employees of CSA. Now as far as we know there are seven unions at CSA and six of them, including mechanics, flight attendants, pilots', some ground workers, would like to have their own collective bargaining agreements as well. So at this time we are not negotiating about the contents of a collective bargaining agreement but the shape of the negotiations. So right now its deadlocked because both sides are claiming that their way of doing it is legal. Unfortunately the Czech labour code and Czech law is not specifically clear in this so at this time we are deadlocked."

This is not the first time that pilots' have taken action is it?

"No its not. Back in 2001 there was a change to the Czech labour code which in fact stated that we needed to have overtime, holidays, and certain things put into our pay stubs and again, CSA refused to abide by the Czech labour code. At that time it was about six months before we agreed that the way to do it would be through negotiations and in the end they had to abide by the law."

Do you think now, with the current state of negotiations at a deadlock, do you think there is any possibility of a strike in the future?

"Well let me put it this way, there is always a possibility of a strike. But without the support of our members we can't strike. At this point we don't have a mandate to say we are going to go on strike. We would have to call a meeting and get a mandate to do that. In the future we would probably have certain ways of making sure that we would have our own collective bargaining agreement, and a strike is one of those ways."