inem helicopter
Image: INEM

INEM emergency helicopter pilots threaten walk-out

Syndicate delivers strike notice for “total work stoppage”

SPAC, the Civil Aviation Pilots Union has handed in a strike notice from INEM helicopter pilots today, which could effectively scupper emergency medical air-transport from the middle of this month.

In the notice, SPAC informs that “the strike will take the form of a total work stoppage, including overtime”, but with minimum services decreed.

The strike will take place this month, between the November 16-18, 19-21, 22 -24 and 27-27 – always between 8pm on the first day and 8am on the last day of each of the four strike periods.

As minimum services, SPAC indicates “fulfilment of the shifts included in the strike periods at the Évora base”.

The strike covers pilots employed by Spanish company Avincis Aviation Portugal which holds the contract to operate INEM’s (National Institute of Medical Emergency) medical emergency helicopters.

Expresso reported in September that INEM pilots were complaining that Avincis Aviation Portugal was not respecting minimum rest periods, causing pilots to be overworked and suffering accumulated fatigue, in addition to not having a company agreement that protects their rights, in line with contracts held by colleagues in Italian and Spanish offshoots.

According to Portugal’s pilots, the lack of rest conditions jeopardises not only their safety but that of the patients they transport. Sources told Expresso in September that there are days when they work more than 16 hours without being paid for it.

As SPAC has explained, pilots’ complaints to Avincis have been going on for at least a year, without the impasse ever being resolved. The company keeps its “back turned” on the workers, “in some cases ignoring opinions from ANAC (the National Civil Aviation Authority), against these practices by the company following complaints submitted by SPAC to ANAC and the Labour Conditions Authority (ACT)”, writes Lusa.

SPAC’s complaints have denounced what the syndicate describes as “abuses by Avincis” in drawing up schedules and counting pilots’ hours of service, exceeding the legally permitted annual flying hours. This translates into more hours flown than are recognised and paid for, fewer days off, holidays and compulsory rest periods between shifts than are due, to the detriment of “physical rest between shifts, time for personal life and due remuneration”.

“There is a risk that INEM will be unable to operate its helicopters from mid-November. By then, the pilots (more than 30) will have exceeded the maximum annual legal limits of flying hours recognised by Avincis,” warns SPAC.

In the strike notice submitted today, SPAC justifies the strike with the “intransigent stance expressed by Avincis Aviation Portugal, Unipessoal, Lda. over recent months in relation to the consensual resolution of non-compliances”, adding that “these non-compliances concern not only the application of labour and aeronautical legislation, but also ANAC’s determinations”.

The syndicate further justifies the strike with “the continued violations of this legislation and determinations“, with impact (…) on the physical and mental health of pilots“, which “could have repercussions in terms of flight safety“.

“The aim of this strike is to resolve all the points mentioned (…) and to put an end to the violations of the applicable legislation, so that there are all the conditions for pilots to carry out their work in a climate of labour peace and full operational safety,” SPAC concludes in its notice.

Source: LUSA