EasyJet has been accused of ‘corporate bullying’ by its pilots as it looks to deal with a wave of disruption and cancellations.
Pilots’ union Balpa wrote to the easyJet board on Tuesday describing moves to tackle high levels of staff sickness as “counterproductive”. It added that the policies “completely decimated any residual goodwill among your workforce in one fell swoop”.
EasyJet has had to cancel hundreds of flights in recent weeks as the wider airline industry attempts to increase operations after two years of limited flying following a surge of spring and summer bookings.
EasyJet has reported that staff absences have hit 20% in some bases as Covid-19 continues to affect thousands of people in the UK; but in an email to staff it warned that the current level of staff absence “is not sustainable going forward”, leaving unions angered.
The email conceded that the focus on sickness “may be a tough read”, and reiterated company policies on taking “formal action” against staff over absence rates.
According to the Financial Times, which has seen the email, managers wrote: “The triggers for formal action are guidelines and we may, if deemed necessary, skip a stage where the absence continues to be poor.”
It is understood that easyJet workers are not expected to come to work if they are sick but to communicate their sickness in advance, rather than at the last minute.
Balpa pinned the blame for staff absences on the current wave of Covid-19 and said it sought redress. It said: “An email about higher than normal sickness levels was dispatched universally across the airline to crew and pilots, the tone of which our members claim, amounts to corporate bullying. We seek visible and obvious redress.”
Balpa general secretary Martin Chalk said the email’s language was contrary to pilots and crew’s good relationship with the company. “We urge easyJet to work with us to restore an industry leading ‘win-win’ relationship,” he said. He blamed the row on easyJet’s chief operating officer Peter Bellew, who was hired from Ryanair in 2019.
EasyJet said: “We value the skills and professionalism of our pilots and crew. The safety of our passengers and crew is our highest priority.”
During the first wave of Covid-19, in 2020, easyJet announced plans to make 4,500 roles redundant including 700 UK-based pilots but in conjunction with Balpa and other unions there were no compulsory job cuts, although around 50 pilots took voluntary redundancy.