Covid-19: Emirates asks staff to take unpaid leave

Dmitry Birin,

The novel Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak has already caused traffic collapse on key Asian routes and the effect was rippling throughout the air transport network globally, including among countries without major outbreaks of COVID-19, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned earlier in March 2020. While the organization is asking airports to scrap slot rules to help cope with overcapacity, carriers are turning for their staff. 

Airlines at the front line of Covid-19 challenge

“The world is facing a huge challenge to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while enabling the global economy to continue functioning,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, said in a statement issued March 2. According to de Juniac, airlines are “on the front line of that challenge”.

In current circumstances, air operators are unable to plan flights and capacity need ahead sufficiently, IATA argues, explaining that carriers are facing challenges in planning “efficient” rostering of crew and aircraft deployment. 

IATA is calling for a global suspension of slot allocation rules. Under these rules, airlines must operate at least 80% of their allocated slots or lose rights to the slot the following season. If the organization’s request is granted, carriers will not be forced to operate empty flights. They could also park or reallocate aircraft to other routes. 

Emirates asks employees to take unpaid leave

Meanwhile, while IATA is trying to address the slot problem, airlines are turning to their crews asking for help with their excess workforce problems. Citing an excess of “resources” following flight cancellations and frequency cuts, Emirates has asked their staff to take holidays or one-month unpaid leave. 

“Considering the availability of additional resources and the fact that many employees want to utilize their leave, we have provided our employees the option to avail leave or apply for voluntary unpaid leave for up to one month at a time,” the airline’s chief operating officer Adel al-Redha said in a statement.

In 2018-2019, when the last available annual report was issued, Emirates Airline estimated its workforce to stand at 60,282 employees. 

Emirates has suspended all flights to China (except Beijing), Iran and Saudi Arabia. The frequency has been reduced on routes to Bahrain, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

IATA estimates that the coronavirus outbreak has cost Middle East airlines up to $100 million. 

Emirates is not the first airline to turn to its workforce for help coping with the Covid-19 outbreak. For instance, similar measures were already implemented by Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) and United Airlines.

One of the biggest such programs is reportedly happening at Cathay Pacific. The carrier, which has been already facing headwinds prior to the outbreak, is reportedly implementing a leave program that would affect 75% of its workforce. Out of 33,300 employees, over  25,000 have opted to take the unpaid leave for three weeks between March and June. 

In late February 2020, Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) said it was offering employees unpaid leave and was halting the hiring of new staff. 

Similarly, United Airlines, the airline which has the most flights to Asia among the U.S. carriers, has also reportedly offered its pilots leave due to the situation. Reports indicate United pilots were offered to take the month of April off on reduced pay. Previously, United said that due to Covid-19, the near-term demand in China dropped by approximately 100%, while the demand for the rest of their trans-Pacific routes fell by around 75%. 

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