SABENA HAS reached agreement with its three main unions over the implementation of key parts of the airline's Horizon 98 cost-reduction plan.

The scheme, proposed by Sabena president Paul Reutlinger, differs little from the one proposed by his predecessor Pierre Godfroid, who was forced to resign in the face of union opposition when he attempted to drive the plan through without consultation.

Horizon 98 is aimed at achieving profitability by 1998 through a reduction of costs by BFr4.7 billion ($150 million). Of this, BFr2.7 billion would be achieved by restructuring, with the remainder coming from a reduction of labour costs. The restructuring plan for the 49.5%-Swissair-owned airline is expected to include the shedding of its cargo and catering operations and rationalisation of its fleet.

The unions have agreed to five measures to reduce Sabena's high salary bills. These include a pre-retirement scheme allowing employees to leave at the age of 52, voluntary resignations, the introduction of temporary jobs, allowing employees to take non-paid leave and job flexibility.

The measures would result in a reduction of the workforce by 1,270 - insufficient to achieve the BFr2 billion labour-cost reduction. Further wage reductions are expected.

In the past Sabena employees have had salaries temporarily reduced by up to 17% - although these have since been restored.

New salary reductions are seen as being inevitable in the effort to achieve the necessary savings, although, Reutlinger says that "-a reduction of salaries is not perceived as a priority".

On 31 October, management and unions are scheduled to meet again to discuss further measures to achieve the cost reductions.

Source: Flight International