El Al Layoffs Start With Pilot, Steward Trainees

People wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus at Ben Gurion Airport. (Flash90)

El Al has terminated over 60 pilot trainees and 100 steward cadets in the first of 1,000 layoffs, according to Globes on Sunday.

The layoffs have been caused by heavy financial losses due to cancellations amid the global coronavirus scare. El Al has asked for government aid, lest it be forced to halt all operations, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said last week that he has designated Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to handle the issue.

He renewed the pledge on Sunday in a call to El Al workers’ committee chairman Shlomo Ben Yitzhak, informing him that he has instructed the ministerial committee to help El Al and the other Israeli airlines. PM Netanyahu said, “I appreciate the work that you are doing, and we’ll help you and take care of El Al.”

“In pursuance of the consequences of the coronavirus crisis facing the company, cadets in El Al’s pilots, air steward, and ground steward courses whose training has not yet been completed were notified that their training had been terminated, and that they would not be hired as El Al employees at this stage,” the company said in a statement.

“The company is also making adjustments, including not beginning air and ground steward courses that were scheduled to open soon. We emphasize that no new employees are being hired until further notice.”

El Al reportedly suggested that state aid can be started using the $100 million a year in taxes that El Al pays.

Officials argue that El Al deserves immediate assistance, not only because its losses are being caused by government decisions to curtail many flights abroad, but also in recognition of the company’s service in flying state aid teams to disaster-struck countries.

They point out that they have been placed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis its competitor, due to the fact that it is not allowed to fly to Turkey for security reasons; the fact that foreign airlines are allowed to shorten their routes by flying through Saudi Arabian airspace (Air India); and the regulations allowing state employees to fly on foreign airlines, instead of exclusively on El Al, Globes reported.

Airline workers held an emergency meeting on Sunday in response to the layoff announcements.

Dressed in black shirts bearing the motto, “Help!” thousands of the company’s 6,300 employees demonstrated, with slogans saying, “Our home is in danger,” “Aviation needs a cure,” and “Workers are saving their home.”

Ben-Yitzhak told the workers at Sunday’s meeting, “We are now in a crisis that we have never experienced before.”

He noted, however, that El Al and its workers have been hard hit, not only by coronavirus, but by unfair state policies. It had begun as a government company, “and one bright day, it was decided to privatize El Al and send it to compete on the free market as a public company. When other countries preserve a national carrier, however, they encourage, subsidize, and support it, and that is in countries having trans-border bridges and railways. In Israel, it was decided to challenge the national carrier time after time. We have to cope with encouragement for foreign airlines that benefit from aviation alliances, while as an Israeli airline, we are boycotted because we are Jews. We suffer from a lack of slots, which foreign airlines here take our citizens to destinations around the world.”

Ben-Yitzhak cited the security fee that El Al has to pay and what he described as the unfair conditions in the open skies policy. He said, “As an Israeli company that flies a large proportion of the passengers at Ben Gurion Airport, we should have received a discount on fees – this was also taken from us. They allow our competitors to fly over Saudi Arabia, which shortens the flight time by two hours, and we are not allowed to do it. Now the coronavirus has come. In contrast to all other countries, the government has imposed crazy restrictions on flights – this is a death blow to aviation. As an airline that constantly faces inequality in competition and is supposed to preserve Israel’s civil aviation and military strategic asset, how can we stand passengers being prevented from flying?”

“We’re in an emergency situation. All of the authorities must lend a hand to prevent the collapse of El Al and the other Israeli airlines. I’ll instruct all of the workers’ committees to fly only on Israeli airlines from now on,” Histradrut chairman Arnon Bar-David said at a protest conference of El Al workers at Ben Gurion Airport.

“El Al, the company that Israelis, the workers, and the Histradrut love so much, faces collapse, and no one cares. It is impossible to imagine the state of civil aviation in Israel without it. When there’s an emergency, it should be treated as one. We expect all of the authorities in Israel to help El Al, and to prevent its collapse and that of the other Israeli airlines, Israir and Arkia. I’ll instruct all of the workers’ committees to fly only on Israeli airlines from now on – this is the time to show cohesion and unity,” Bar-David said.