“It’s an environment that encourages union-busting” – Wizz Air pilot speaks out

19 Oct 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of travel restrictions have been dominating the aviation industry this year. In the general chaos of mass dismissals, salary cuts and uncertainty about the future, some employers have also taken this as an opportunity to get rid of workers that were seen as “causing problems”. We’ve previously reported on Ryanair and Wizz Air using the crisis to dismiss union members, hoping to get away with it during these extraordinary times. Today we check in with another former Wizz Air employee, who was dismissed by the company earlier this year. He describes a working environment marked by overwork and anti-union tendencies.

“I started working at Wizz Air as a first officer after passing their screening process. I was upgraded to Captain a few years later. During my career in the company, I applied and was selected for several internal positions, and also became an instructor. I’ve never had any issues related to safety, training or HR. Still, at the beginning of this year, I was dismissed by the company, as part of the restructuring that came with the effects of COVID-19.

Compared to other airlines, Wizz Air is known for pushing pilots to the limits of what is legally allowed. While with others, you might be assigned around 60/70 hours of flight time in a month, with Wizz Air it’s 85, sometimes even 90. Even now, during the pandemic, when there are a lot fewer flights, they still use individual pilots to the max. Flying 90 hours leaves you destroyed, especially because with Wizz Air, you are often required to fly six days in a row, getting up at 4 am and only finishing in the afternoon. This inevitably leads to pilots calling in fatigued, often on the last day of such a marathon. And while doing this demonstrates pilot’s responsible behaviour and commitment to safety, they are often punished for it.

Wizz Air has a history of declaring workers who miss work for reasons such as illness as not performing well on the job. This is especially problematic when such a characterisation ends up influencing Wizz Air management’s decisions on who to dismiss. It ends up discriminating against workers based on their health and motivates workers to come to work even when they’re not feeling well. During a global pandemic, it has become even more apparent how this endangers not only workers but also passengers.

Wizz Air management has a special expression for people who never call in sick – they’re “company-minded”. Other characteristics of such a perfect worker for Wizz Air include being available 24/7, getting along with local management, and never complaining about anything. Many workers, including myself, learned of the consequences of not fitting these criteria perfectly.

I was dismissed by the company in April this year, together with several other workers at my base. We never learned about the criteria used for these decisions, and it was not based on our safety records, as some of the workers with previous violations (including being found positive at the alcohol check) have kept their jobs. What I had heard from Wizz Air colleagues around Europe was confirmed yet again – local management is free to do whatever they like when it comes to dismissals. And these decisions are often made based on (a lack of) personal disagreements or arguments they have with workers.

I found myself in a similar situation and was dismissed not long after one of the local managers told me he’d “make me pay” after we got into an argument outside of work and for not-work-related issues. My case is not an anomaly – it is no secret that local management can dismiss the people who are considered to be “irritating” them, or “causing problems” of any kind. It’s an environment that hinders union action and encourages union-busting, as we all know that there’s nothing Wizz Air managers find more irritating that collective workers’ action.”