A transcript of a secret Wizz Air management meeting from 4 April 2020 which was leaked to staff has been passed to the ETF, revealing that management saw the COVID-19 crisis as the opportunity to “clean up the airline” by using discriminatory and anti-worker criteria in deciding which pilots to dismiss.
In the meeting, a senior Wizz Air manager tells base captains that 250 pilots need to be dismissed shortly and that after stopping the training of 150 pilots, they need to come up with a list of another 100.
He gives them two criteria to base their decision on, starting with “bad apples, so anyone that has caused you grief on a routine basis, whether it’s excessive sickness, not doing their ground school, poor performance in their PPCs.” The other group put forward by the manager is “weak captains.” With this category, he first stays more general and says, “That person, you know. We, we know we have them, and now is the time to clean up the airline. Anyone that is not Wizz culture, alright. Anyone that kinda, is always kinda you know what, that person is a pain.”
His speech continues along these lines and gets progressively more direct in explaining the motivations behind these criteria. At one point, he says: “We’re in an opportunity here, to make the next 10 years of your life managing, easy. So we will come out of it, as a much stronger workforce, one that has the Wizz culture and that’s easy to manage in the next future, for the future going ahead.”
The manager also refers to pilots that work for Wizz Air and are employed through an external agency, CONFAIR. He suggests not looking at them for now and only suggest dismissing them as a last resort, as they are” easy to manage because we can let them go at any time,” as well as “incredibly cheap, for the company.”
The leaked document uncovers the highly problematic practices Wizz Air management has used to get rid of what they perceive as troublemakers during the COVID-19 crisis. This toxic environment is not a secret – the ETF has exposed them many times before, with workers claiming that they’ve been dismissed because of their trade union membership or even just trying to protect their fundamental rights at work.
A pilot in Italy spoke out last year, saying that “Wizz Air is known for pushing pilots to the limits of what is legally allowed and has a history of declaring workers who miss work for reasons such as illness as not performing well on the job.” In fact, he added, Wizz Air management has a special expression for people who never call in sick – they’re “company-minded.”
The revelations of the recent leak shed new light on Wizz Air management’s reprehensible behaviour, but they don’t come as a surprise for Wizz Air staff around Europe.
“Wizz Air is well known for its anti-labour practices. In March 2019, the Supreme Court in Romania ruled that Wizz Air was discriminating against workers based on their trade union membership. While this case has proven that Wizz Air is not above the law, they have continued to discriminate against workers,” reminds Eoin Coates, ETF Head of Aviation. He adds that “Airlines need to be held accountable and made to work in line with national and EU law. The approach applied by Wizz Air is unacceptable. A workplace is not a dictatorship, you cannot simply decide that those who do as they’re told stay, those who don’t are fired. Especially when the judgement comes down to the personal perception of individual managers.”
An internal message to the staff from April 2021 which has also been passed to the ETF, reveals that Wizz Air acted after receiving several complaints, and they have since made major changes to the management team. While this is a positive development, it only happened after internal pressure mounted, and many structural issues remain, most notably the use of external agency workers. Since Wizz Air’s organisation of work itself makes it more difficult for workers to voice complaints, limited organisational change will not result in necessary change. Despite Wizz Air’s efforts, the core problem remains as the company continues to refuse to give the workers a voice.