Ben Gurion Airport Threatens El Al Ban Unless Labor Dispute Solved

A passenger waiting by his luggage in the departure hall at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. (Flash90)

Israel’s national airline could soon find itself without a national airport unless it gets its labor house in order, the management of Ben Gurion Airport said. Speaking Sunday night, a spokesperson for management said that the airport was giving the airline 24 hours to put an end to the continuing flight cancelations and delays — or it will shut down services for El Al flights, effectively canceling all of them, as the airport would not provide gate, cleaning, meal or control tower services for the airline.

For the fifth day in a row, flights were canceled Sunday as pilots, protesting what they called the company’s forced retirement policies, simply did not show up for work. El Al management is seeking an injunction against continued labor actions by the pilots, based on an agreement signed in November in which pilots pledged to halt their actions while negotiations were proceeding. Both sides are set to attend a hearing in a Tel Aviv labor court Monday afternoon to argue the injunction.

The latest work dispute between pilots and management revolves around conditions for pilots who have reached the age of 65 and can no longer fly, but are still employed by El Al. Under an international agreement signed by Israel in 2014, pilots 65 and older are no longer allowed to fly planes, although under their contracts with El Al they can remain on the job until age 67. This issue is one of those being discussed in the negotiations that began in November after a long period of flight cancelations and recriminations between management and pilots over a number of labor issues. The airline has adjusted the salaries of these pilots downwards, causing much anger among pilots and in the Histadrut.

A report in Yediot Acharonot Monday revealed that the pilots affected were demanding the full basic salary the airline pays senior cabin staff — NIS 45,000 per month — even though they work only 10 days a month, mostly training younger pilots on an air flight simulator. The airline has offered the pilots NIS 33,000 a month for the 10 days of work, with an additional NIS 5,000 for each extra day worked. As an alternative, sources in the airline reported that the affected pilots said they would be willing to retire — in return for NIS 1.75 million severance pay for each pilot. A later proposal cut that to NIS 900,000 per pilot, with NIS 300,000 to be paid by the union, and the balance by the airline.