El Al Crisis Postponed Until the Weekend

An El Al plane taking off at Ben Gurion Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A crisis that could have shut down El Al flights altogether has been postponed until Motzoei Shabbos, by order of the Tel Aviv Labor Court. The court ordered that the resignation of eight flight supervisors – the officials who sign off on the safety of flights – that had been submitted Tuesday night be suspended until the weekend, in order to give more time for pilots and airline management to work out their issues.

Those issues came to a dramatic head Tuesday night, when the supervisors submitted their resignations after negotiations between management and the pilots broke down earlier in the day. According to reports, the atmosphere between the two sides was so bitter that they sat in separate rooms and “negotiated” by passing messages to each other, Haaretz reported. Instead of making progress, the eyewitnesses said, both sides actually retracted concessions they had made previously, and dug into their own positions more forcefully.

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. The airline has adjusted the salaries of these pilots downwards – causing much anger among pilots and in the Histadrut, although the issue is one of those being discussed in the negotiations that began in November, after a long period of flight cancellations and recriminations between management and pilots over a number of labor issues.

Media reports said that the pilots affected were demanding the full basic salary the airline pays senior cabin staff – NIS 45,000 per month, even though they worked only ten 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 ten days of work, with an additional NIS 5,000 for each extra day worked. As an alternative, sources in the airline said 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.

After the resignations were submitted Tuesday night, El Al petitioned the court for an emergency session, saying that without the supervisors on the job the airline would have no choice but to cancel all flights, causing untold losses for the airline. In a court session Wednesday marked by shouts and insults, the court suggested that changes on either side – salary cuts and resignations – be suspended for several days, to give the sides an opportunity to go back to the negotiating table. However, it refused to order that the resignations be suspended or canceled, saying that “an airline cannot be run on the basis of court orders.”

In a statement, El Al management said that “the court accepted the position of management and ordered that the resignations of supervisors be suspended. The court also ordered that management and pilots negotiate on the retirement issue. As always, El Al seeks to ensure that the interests of both passengers and workers are at the forefront, and the airline will do everything possible to ensure that flights take place as scheduled.”