NetJets Europe pilots less enamored of union

 - January 19, 2007, 9:37 AM

NetJets Europe pilots have yet to form their planned trade union and now there are signs that the movement to do so might be losing momentum as flight crews consider the revised pay and conditions offer the fractional ownership group made in early December.

At press time, barely two dozen pilots had committed to joining the NetJets Europe Pilots Association (NEPA), which was to have been formally established under French law early last month.

According to sources close to NetJets pilots, many of the company’s newer and less experienced recruits might now be inclined to accept the proposed new contract. However, the same sources said that more senior pilots remain dissatisfied with the terms and might seek to establish their own organization.

In a deal presented to all pilots and flight attendants on December 1 last year, proposed raises would range from 4.6 percent to 26.7 percent–depending on employees’ existing terms and conditions. New roster arrangements are also being introduced so that crews would be required to work a maximum of 50 days per quarter.

NetJets Europe is also proposing to replace its existing offshore contracts (under which many staff are employed by firms registered in the Cayman Islands or Isle of Man) with UK- or Portugal-based contracts. These confer full European Union employment rights and are intended to clear up income tax and social security complications resulting from the offshore contracts.

According to Ian Wrathall, general manager of the UK-based Independent Pilots Association (IPA), NetJets Europe pilots on UK-based contracts can join his organization in their own right (regardless of their nationality and where they live). The intention has been that NEPA would be affiliated with IPA, which has annual fees of around $250 and offers legal insurance coverage of approximately $38,000 per member.

IPA already claims to have “a good number” of members from NetJets Europe. Under UK labor laws, the association is legally entitled to seek official recognition from the company if it can demonstrate that it represents at least 10 percent of the pilot workforce.

NetJets Europe currently employs 670 pilots and flight attendants, but it is not clear how many of these are cockpit crew. The company is planning to hire an additional 180 crewmembers this year.

Wrathall told AIN that NetJets Europe might have offered its flight crews enough concessions to avert the immediate prospect of their establishing their own union. However, he emphasized that the apparent delay in this move might be due to the distractions of the holiday season.

NetJets Europe has declined to comment on its labor practices. Meanwhile, the company is still working on the details of revised pension provision for the new flight crew contracts. It has said that it has plans to introduce a new seniority program for pilots early this year.