Finnair stands accused of keeping cheaper foreign cabin crew working through the Corona crisis while driving Finnish flight attendants into poverty through an increasing number of temporary layoffs for its Helsinki-based crew. The airline has decided not to make any of its crew permanently redundant but has slashed its employee costs with temporary lay-offs that could last until March 2021.
Päivyt Tallqvist, Finnair’s director of communications said the lay-offs may be of varying lengths and could also include reduced working hours. “There is simply no work for everyone right away, because the recovery of air travel to the previous level will take a long time,” Tallqvist explained.
But the Finnish Cabin Crew Association claims while Finnair is slashing its more expensive cabin crew, cheaper foreign-based crew will increase in number by as much as 22 per cent. By the end of 2020, the union says 45 per cent of working Finnair cabin crew will be the lower-paid foreign crew.
Finnair currently has international crew bases in Singapore, Hong Kong and Delhi. While some airlines employ foreign crew to bridge cultural divides and provide a more locally-focused service, Finnair was also motivated to open its international bases following a financial crunch in 2014.
International cabin crew are not directly employed by Finnair but subcontracted through airline recruitment consultancy OSM Aviation – the same company that employs cabin crew on behalf of Norwegian Air Shuttle. A spokesperson for Finnair says it must fulfil an agreement with OSM to keep these crew employed and working.
While only 15 per cent of Hong Kong-based crew will be actively working in July, the Finnair cabin crew union claims 90 per cent of foreign crew will be working by October. In stark contrast, by this point, only 40 per cent of Finnish crew will be working. The first three international routes that Finnair resumed after a COVID-19 lockdown didn’t have any Finnish crew at all.
Instead, the union warns that crew will be “driven into poverty” as Finnish taxpayers pick up the bill to pay roughly 50 per cent of their usual salaries. Jari Toivonen, the union’s chairman admitted that recovery would be slow but says this is exactly why now is the time to give up on subcontracting staff and give work back to Finnish workers.
“The implementation of layoffs will proceed according to the work available,” explained Finnair’s Tallqvist. “The amount of work will gradually increase as air travel gradually recovers. If the recovery in travel is faster than estimated, we will naturally invite people from layoffs back to work,” she continued.
By July, Finnair hopes to resume 30 per cent of its pre-Corona flight schedule with a focus on long-haul Asian destinations. Like many airlines, Finnair believes recovery to 2019 levels of demand could take at least 2 – 3 years.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.