by CHRIS GRAEME
Thousands of passengers planning to travel abroad over the Christmas period face being grounded after TAP pilots voted to call an eight-day strike in December and January.
The strike has been called after pilots learnt that the Government is backtracking on a staff stakeholder’s agreement because it doesn’t have the funds.
The pilots, along with other staff, are complaining that they had been contributing towards the fund for 11 years after an agreement was reached at the time with the Government to get a 20% stake in the company and a place on the board of directors.
So far the amount paid into the fund for the stake has reached an estimated €400 million.
The stalemate between TAP and its pilots is now threatening the privatisation of the group, which has to be completed by 2012. The company could be bought by German, British or Brazilian carriers.
TAP says that its losses and current running expenses do not give them the funds to continue to offer the stake in the company.
The initial agreement had been meant to put a full stop to a long conflict over wages, having established that pilots would have the right to a participation of between 10 and 20% in the airline carrier and a place on the board of directors.
In exchange for this, they abdicated the right to a salary review which would have set the company back an additional €26 million a year.
In total, the pilots calculate they have so far contributed €400 million towards the stake kitty.
The pilots have even posted an explanation of their decision to strike on YouTube – the strike will last eight days: December 9, 10, 11, and 12, and January 3, 4, 5, and 6.
The pilots are the only inside private investors in TAP, each month accumulating capital rights in the company equal to the total in salary increases the pilots claim they should have had.
TAP has so far refused to issue an official statement until it receives an official written strike warning from the Civil Aviation Pilots Union (Sindicato dos Pilotos da Aviação Civil – SPAC).
According to an official union source, the intention to strike document will be delivered to the airline’s management within the next few days.
A total of 280,000 passengers will be affected by the strike and TAP will lose an estimated €5 million a day because of the action.
This means that the company stands to lose €40 million from the eight strike days if an agreement is not reached between the unions and the airline.
In the first half of 2011 TAP registered losses of €137 million.