Tight labour market helps negotiating position of KLM pilots

Is KLM facing blue skies or turbulence ahead? Photo: DutchNews.nl

They are among the best-paid pilots in the world, but KLM fliers remain dissatisfied with the new pay-and-conditions package worked out by the airline and the VNV pilots union.

On Tuesday, a majority of KLM’s 2,800 pilots rejected the package. They are demanding less work pressure and claim they get little in return from KLM, the Financieele Dagblad said on Friday.

Work pressure has increased in recent years and so have complaints from the cockpit. ‘I’ll be the first to admit it: we have an excellent salary package with free time and pension worked into it,’ said a pilot who has been with KLM for nearly 30 years. ‘But you notice the fatigue, there’s a lot of talk about that.’

Under pressure from increased competition from budget airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair, KLM CEO Pieter Elbers has worked hard to increase productivity at the Dutch flag carrier. This includes with the pilots. In the past they had three or even four days to recover after an intercontinental flight.  This has now been cut back to two and the roster is much tighter.




Pilot shortage

The negotiation is being played out against a background of a small pilot market in Europe, where there is even a shortage of staff. KLM City Hopper had to cancel several flights earlier this week when there were not enough pilots due to an outbreak of flu.

KLM rival Ryanair scrapped 1,100 flights in June due to a shortage of pilots. Cabin crew of the Dublin-based carrier have set 48-hour strikes in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium in late July.

European airlines now have hundreds of job vacancies so, says the Financieele Dagblad, KLM has to try to lighten pressure at work. It has to attract new pilots and retrain existing staff for new functions before next summer. This will only make contract talks more difficult, given the tight pool of pilots.

It is not known whether Dutch King Willem-Alexander, who last year stopped flying as a guest co-pilot on the KLM Cityhopper service, has yet completed his Boeing 737 training to strengthen the ranks.