Herman De Wulf/BRUSSELS

BELGIAN NATIONAL carrier Sabena is paralysed by the fourth strike since November. This time the pilot's union, ABPNL, is opposing the hiring of four pilots by regional subsidiary DAT to fly the new Avro RJ85.

The latest series of conflicts began when the unions walked out on talks about the business plan calling for job flexibility, a three-year wage freeze and a 5% increase in working time, with the management promising that part of future dividends would be reserved for airline staff.

Sabena president Pierre Godfroid then cancelled all labour agreements, the first time such an action had been taken in Belgium. The unions went on an immediate 24h "warning strike", ridiculing Godfroid's promise to create 1,000 new "low-cost" jobs.

The airline has often yielded after such warning strikes, but Sabena's new management has instead reacted aggressively, saying that the carrier loses BFr100 million ($3.2 million) for each day of industrial action and that it will recover the loss through reductions in the workforce.

DAT is to receive 23 Avro RJ85s. Contracts with the pilots offer salaries 35% lower than Sabena's, which, the ABPNL says, goes against a previous agreement that DAT pilots flying Sabena routes will get the same pay. Sabena says that the RJ85 is not a BAe 146 and that the former labour agreement therefore does not apply. It also insists that a low-cost operation is essential to the airline's increasingly successful hub-and-spoke operation, much of which is operated by DAT.

Sabena partner Swissair, which has a 49.5% stake in the Belgian airline, has already carried out a similar plan under which its own subsidiary, Crossair, took over responsibility for the airline's own RJ fleet.o

Source: Flight International