Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s biggest airlines, has started to furlough staff, including crew members, in
response to the crippling effect of the coronavirus epidemic on the global travel industry.
The union, which includes most of the 8,000 workers on the airline, has protested the decision to lay
off thousands of employees for three months without pay and probably longer in the midst of a pandemic. The decision to furlough staff comes as the airline is under pressure to cancel flights
to countries with major spread of viruses, including flights to China, unlike other similar international airlines. It had planned an increase in cargo flights and aircraft repairs to reduce losses incurred by COVID-19.
“Most of us are required to agree to a three-month leave with no choice without any payment,” says a full-time hostess who spoke with Quartz Africa on condition of anonymity. “If we don’t agree, we have been warned that would be considered as if we have abandoned our jobs at our own will and there will be no employment guarantee once the crisis is over.”
A letter forwarded to employees says due to reasons beyond the company’s control, staffs are no longer required to report for duty until the resumption of normal operations.“The company does not opt for the termination of your employment contract by now and rather we found it plausible to grant you annual leave and leave without pay for a specified duration,” the letter reads.
“Hence, as per our discussion and consensus reached thereof you are hereby granted 90 consecutive days of leave without pay which will be in effect from April 03, 2020, to July 2nd, 2020 after you exhaust all accrued and prorated vacation days”, the letter continues.
Ethiopian Airlines, in a response to Quartz Africa, says it has laid off only contract employees under an agreement made with their recruitment agencies. All the local flight crew members are hired by the airline directly while custodians and support staff are recruited from agencies as per need request and did not address the issues with flight attendants. “As our flights to over 87 destinations suspended and over 80 of our fleets are grounded, we have instructed some of our workers to take a paid leave,” said the airline’s statement.
Ethiopian Airlines has built itself into the primary airline in Africa over the last decade and
has made Addis Ababa the main hub for the entire continent, overtaking Dubai in the process.
While all airlines are facing a difficult time ahead, those with a significant share of international
routes face additional obstacles as most countries have for the near future.