After last week’s Air Algerie strikes halted hundreds of flights, left thousands stranded at airports and led to the loss of millions of dinars, the national air carrier on Sunday (July 17th) launched talks with trade unions.
The four-day labour action, which ended last Thursday, cost the company almost 32 million dinars, chief executive Mohamed Salah Boultif announced on Sunday.
The airline’s cabin crew workers are demanding a 106% pay hike, special status and better working conditions. They are also calling for reinstating 145 staff members who were sacked after the strike began. Flight attendants want to be granted a status that will put them on a par with pilots and co-pilots.
The flights resumed on Friday following the intervention of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia. He called on both parties to engage in a dialogue and said he would intercede to prevent the state-run air carrier from making some workers “redundant”. General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) Secretary-General Abdelmadjid Sidi Said also gave some reassurances to the protestors.
Boultif expressed optimism at the end of the Sunday talks, saying that agreement would “definitely be reached”.
Still, the Air Algerie chief executive indicated that the company’s financial situation does not allow “giving a positive answer to their main demand, which is a pay hike of 106%” but only precludes a rise of above 20%. He called on the representatives of the crew members to exercise common sense.
“Air Algérie’s financial situation does not make this possible, because when you give 20% or 106%, it must not be forgotten that the other staff groups (within Air Algérie) will demand the same thing,” Transport Minister Amar Tou told journalists on Sunday.
“If you give one penny more to the cabin crew, you must also give the same thing to the flight crew and the maintenance staff,” he added. “They (the Air Algérie workers) must all take into account the financial situation of Air Algérie.”
The minister also pointed out that the company had been bailed out financially by the authorities and warned that the cabin crew must not cause “a dangerous deterioration” in the company’s situation.
Still, he expressed optimism as to the outcome of the negotiations. “I think that both parties can arrive at an understanding that will safeguard the future of Air Algérie,” Tou added.
Boultif agreed that a compromise could be reached in order to protect the interests of both staff and the company. He added that negotiations must involve all Air Algerie workers, not only the cabin crew.
For his part, labour union spokesman Yassine Hamamouche maintained that the first and foremost demand of the cabin crew was “the reinstatement of the 145 workers who were laid off”.