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Wizz Air Sacks 1,000 Crew Blaming COVID-19 Crisis While Simultaneously Announcing Major Expansion

Wizz Air Sacks 1,000 Crew Blaming COVID-19 Crisis While Simultaneously Announcing Major Expansion

The Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air has been accused of a cynical ploy to use the COVID-19 crisis as a cover for ridding itself of “uncooperative” employees while simultaneously announcing a major expansion across Europe and the launch of a new holding company in Abu Dhabi.

Wizz Air made around 1,000 pilots, cabin crew and other staff redundant in April, citing the direct effects of the pandemic but in the last few days the budget carrier said it would open four brand new bases across Europe from July 1. Expansion is also expected in Vienna, while the airline is ploughing ahead with the launch of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi later this year.

Photo Credit: Wizz Air

One pilot who was made redundant by Wizz Air claimed criteria used to select which staff would get the axe included how willing they had been in the past to work overtime on their days off. The ex-Wizz Air pilot, who wished to remain anonymous, said “blacklists” had been created by local managers based on their personal likes and dislikes.

“If an airline doesn’t value experience and performance of its crew, but prefers to keep pilots who are willing to work on their days off, or who potentially show up sick for work, then I wonder what place that airline has in this safety-critical business,” the pilot cautioned.

As the true scale of the COVID-19 pandemic started to become clear, Wizz Air reassured investors that it had a robust balance sheet and excellent liquidity to weather the Corona crisis. The airline’s balance sheet included €1.5 billion in cash and through its UK-based subsidiary, Wizz Air also tapped the British government for £300 million in COVID resilience loans.

After initially telling staff not to worry about the crisis because of its strong cash position, Wizz Air then informed they would have their basic pay slashed by 25 per cent. One pilot said this decision alone caused financial hardship because the bulk of their wages were made up of ‘flying pay’ which they weren’t earning because flights had been grounded.

Then came news of the redundancies. The Flyvebranchen Personale Union (FPU) claims Wizz Air treated the layoffs as individual performance-related dismissals rather than the mass redundancies they appear to be. The union says Wizz Air did not attempt to engage with its members to find other ways to weather the pandemic.

Nor, does it appear, Wizz Air offered those made redundant the opportunity to be redeployed. Several days ago, the airline said it would open four new crew bases in Milan, Larnaca, Kyiv and Tirana by July 1. A total of 15 brand new aircraft will allow the airline to open up 51 routes in the midst of the pandemic.

Wizz Air chief executive József Váradi says he expects his airline to be a longterm winner as the aviation industry emerges from the Corona crisis. “Wizz Air’s ultra-low-cost business model and our strong balance sheet provide a significant competitive advantage in the current environment, while also making us a long-term structural winner in the aviation sector,” Váradi explained on Friday.

Wizz Air has been contacted for comment.

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