In a recent interview, Wizz Air CEO József Váradi reflected on some of the company’s business practices and boasted of its anti-union activities. Speaking of creating new bases in Germany, he claimed that the company has “been keeping out unions everywhere. Unions are killing the business. If the unions try to catch us and to kill us, we simply close the base and move on. That’s the beauty of being an airline with the diversity and flexibility we have in our network: We can simply move our aircraft to another place.”
Such announcement of anti-union actions would have you think that Wizz Air is free to do whatever they please in Europe, and never face any consequences. Yet, it turns out, Wizz Air is no stranger to being put to court over their discriminatory practices when it comes to trade unions. Let’s look back to one of the cases.
In June 2015, the Romanian National Council for Combating Discrimination found Wizz Air guilty of dismissing 19 staff members due to their affiliation to a trade union. In its decision, the Council stated that the termination of the labour contracts of the union members was discriminatory and more importantly, this discrimination had the intention to stop the union movement, which is a grave offence. In July of the same year, the court ordered the reinstatement of the cabin crew members dismissed by Wizz Air. Additionally, in March 2019, the Supreme Court in Romania ruled that Wizz Air was discriminating against workers based on their trade union membership.
While airline CEOs want to obscure the fact that actively preventing workers from organising and discriminating against them because of union membership is illegal, national and European legislation makes it pretty clear. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is very straightforward in its protection of the rights of workers to organise, with Article 12 stating that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels, in particular in political, trade union and civic matters, which implies the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interests.”
Even if CEOs decide to ignore these rights, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist and that the companies cannot be brought to court when they violate them. Right now, with the COVID-19 crisis being used as a convenient excuse to let go of workers, airlines will likely use the opportunity to try to get rid of union members are unions altogether. The actions of aviation workers around Europe, however, have proven in the past few years that they will not just accept these attacks.
On the day that Váradi’s interview came out, ETUI published an article Transnational union action at Ryanair, exploring union action of the past few years in another notorious airline, Ryanair. It clearly demonstrates that while the “diversity and flexibility we have in our network” is what CEOs like Varadi believe gives them an advantage, it’s also something that crew is very aware of and use it as the basis of organising. As its author, Stan De Spiegelaere, writes: “Solidarity and consciousness of common problems grew between cabin crew members of different countries and bases, and between pilots and cabin crew members.”
Aviation workers of Europe will not stand by and accept abominable behaviours by airlines. They have proven time and again that they are ready to fight and stand up for their rights, no matter what the CEOs say and how much they try to prevent collective action.
To express your support in one of the latest fights for the right to organise, sign here the petition to get three union leaders recently dismissed by Ryanair reinstated.