ETF Backs Serbian Workers in Fight Against Union Busting at Air Serbia

13 Dec 2023

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) has shown strong support for Serbian workers facing union suppression at Air Serbia, a state-owned airline. Demonstrating their commitment, ETF representatives visited the Serbian Embassy in Brussels on Monday, 11 December, delivering a petition signed by over 4,000 individuals This petition calls on the Serbian government to stop union busting within the public company.


The dispute at Air Serbia intensified in 2023 when ten employees, all union members including the union president, vice president, and a board member, were subject to demotions and dismissals. This punitive action followed the union’s rejection of a collective agreement proposed by management, which was unanimously opposed by union members. Such management tactics have significantly eroded union membership and led to a court-imposed “temporary ban” on the union president, a move seen as partial in Serbia.


These measures included demoting seven flight attendants to untenable positions in the contact centre and reducing three cabin seniors, including a SEP instructor, to flight attendant roles. The union president was subsequently dismissed. Further, the ongoing intimidation of remaining union members is evidenced by persistent invitations to meetings and the threat of job loss.


The issues at Air Serbia go beyond union suppression. They include forced rapid expansion, inadequate rest periods, and holidays for staff, and lowered training standards for new cabin crew. The airline’s recent profits have been largely driven by its role as a primary link between Russia and Europe, especially through lucrative flights to Moscow and other Russian cities.


Livia Spera, General Secretary of the ETF, underscored the seriousness of these issues, noting their negative impact on Serbia’s EU accession prospects. She stressed that Serbia, as an EU candidate, is expected to adhere to EU standards, including those pertaining to workers’ and social rights. The ETF’s intervention is in response to the harsh working conditions at Air Serbia, described as “minimum rest and maximum duty,” and the company’s alleged exploitation of the Ukraine conflict to expand flights to Russia, thereby boosting profits.


The ETF’s petition demands an end to the union-busting activities at Air Serbia. Notably, the airline’s workers have refrained from signing this petition due to their vulnerable situation, highlighting the need for external support and advocacy.

This initiative by the ETF highlights its dedication to defending workers’ rights and opposing unfair labour practices, particularly in sectors where union representation is vital for maintaining safe and equitable working conditions. Air Serbia has yet to respond to these allegations, leaving the future of workers’ rights within the airline in a state of uncertainty.