No one likes layoffs. They're never pleasant. That's why the financial press was pleased to report that El Al shares rose by 3.7% after the company announced that 200 employees would be laid off, among them 84 flight attendants. The papers noted that El Al was becoming more efficient.
- Israel's Flagship Airline El Al to Lay Off 200
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But upon closer inspection, it's clear this move isn't about efficiency or fat-trimming. According to the El Al workers' committee, the company has fired only temporary employees who earn low wages, around NIS 4,000 to NIS 5,000 monthly. Also, a new flight attendants' course has just ended and the airline plans to replace the 84 who have been laid off with 60 new graduates, and at the same salary.
The company denies a connection, but there's also talk looming of Ishay Davidi of First Israel Mezzanine Investors, a former Sayeret Matkal special ops fighter who also served four years as a security guard in the company, swooping in to rescue the national carrier. In other words, the "efficiency" moves can also be seen as a wink at the stock market or a type of guidance for the new owner. Mainly, though, the move will lower morale among the flight attendants.
The flight attendants' employment contract bars them from giving interviews – even to members of a committee for temp workers established at the end of 2011 thanks to the social-justice protest. “It’s a revolving door,” says one stewardess.
“Eighty-four will leave and 60 will come in. This is not savings. On the contrary, training costs the company money. Every year, the pay increases by NIS 1 per hour, so the new employees will start with the same salary as those who have been fired.
“It’s a botch-up,” says the stewardess who earns about NIS 4,500 a month. “It is simply muscle-flexing before the El Al workers' committee or a show for [Davidi]. I don't think these layoffs were decided in good faith. Obviously the stock is going up, but I don’t think the truth is being presented to the people in the market. People changed their lives when they started working for the company – they were sure they would be employed for five years. Some flight attendants moved to central Israel, to be near the airport; now they are now being called in for [pre-termination] hearings just for the sake of appearances.”
I talked to D. a few minutes after his pre-termination hearing. He had just returned from a long flight from the Far East and was on a shuttle bus at Ben- International Airport, so he had a few minutes to talk. D. recently graduated from the flight attendants' course and began working in June 2012.
“They told me I was at a pre-layoff hearing," he says. "I spoke for 10 minutes; they didn’t say a word, just nodded and asked me to sign the form.”
Obviously that's not easy to stomach. “I feel humiliated," D. continues. "In recent months I've had no life, no day and no night. I love my work and give 100%. I talked to my immediate superior, who had promoted me to work in business class, and she said, ‘I have no choice; I got orders from above.’"
D. days it's not his place to comment on the company's economic decisions. "It’s their right to fire people and to hire people from the course, because they made a commitment to employ them, but I'm disappointed by their conduct. I feel betrayed. It’s demeaning that you give them your all and they look at you as just another number.”
D. says he's prepared to go on strike, an idea that hadn't even occurred to the stewardess I’d spoken to: “It’s impossible and doesn't make sense," she says. "The company makes it clear to us that we are temporary hires, so everyone looks out for himself.”
El Al has a strong workers' committee but apart from taking its case to the media it hasn’t taken any measures to oppose the temporary employees' layoffs. Boaz Liberman, a spokesman for the committee, according to some flight attendants, was of no help in reaching those people El Al plans to lay off. “I don’t want to comment on the issue,” he said when reached.
El Al workers' committee chairman Asher Edri told Haaretz: “We are examining the management’s conduct with regard to the courses and future courses. The matter is being handled.”
El Al responded: “Because of the need for efficiency measures, El Al has to terminate the employment of about 200 temporary workers. The efficiency plan has to do with the current climate and has no connection to the possible entry of an investor. The company is considering its next steps regarding the training courses that began before the announcement.”