VASP employees demanding government intervention in their beleaguered airline abandoned at the last minute a planned 24 hour strike last month. But relations with management remain tense.

Brazil's airline workers union, which includes pilots, cabin crew and mechanics, backed down from their threat to ground Brazil's third biggest airline after owner Wagner Canhedo agreed in a last minute meeting to reinstate 120 high-ranking employees who had been made redundant, pay their wages and honour all outstanding severance pay. But they warn that the strike has merely been postponed, claiming that Canhedo had rescinded on agreements in the past.

VASP's debt is estimated to be around $1.5 billion. This year, the airline has shrunk dramatically, with the fleet reduced from 49 to 32 aircraft, suspension of all long-haul flights and a workforce of 8,000 slashed by nearly half.

The airline used to fly to destinations as diverse as Seoul, Brussels, Athens, Aruba, Barcelona and Toronto, but its only remaining international flights are to Buenos Aires.

Employees, who have already organised protests and go-slows at some airports, claim they are regularly paid late and that some of those made redundant had learned of their fate over the aircraft's radio during flights.

Canhedo insists that the company has simply undergone restructuring and that the protesters are "disgruntled former employees". He claims the airline will bounce back and has even promised to overtake Brazil's domestic market share by 2002. He also promises that VASP will maintain its stakes in Lloyd Aereo Boliviano and Ecuatoriana.

Last year, Canhedo suggested that Brazil's major airlines should be merged under a single holding company called Air Latina. This proposal so angered the other carriers that they bought advertising space in national newspapers to deny any involvement at all in Canhedo's scheme.

Source: Airline Business