Court Freezes El Al Pilots’ Resignation Until Saturday

Order prevents further disruptions to flights will sides continue to talk

El Al planes parked at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv.
Ariel Schalit/AP

The threat over El Al flights was temporarily lifted on Wednesday after a Tel Aviv Labor Court told eight flight supervisors to freeze their resignations until Saturday night, while the two sides continue to negotiate over a wage dispute.

Judge Ofira Dagan-Tuchmacher said the eight could decide individually by Saturday night whether they wanted to remain on their jobs or quit. In the meantime, she expressed deep frustration with both sides of the dispute, which has caused repeated disruptions in El Al flights.

“I don’t know who is still buying El Al tickets. The public has been hurt by the way both sides have been acting. It seems to be that for both sides passengers are of no interest to them,” she said.

Although the order only lasts a few days, stock market investors were happy with the decision and sent El Al shares 4.2% higher on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange to close at 2.65 shekels (71 cents).

El Al had asked the court to bar the pilots from quitting. As flight supervisors, the eight are among the carrier’s most senior pilots and serve as inspectors and supervisors. Without them, El Al would have to suspend flights at a huge cost to the company, it warned on Tuesday.

In addition, their resignations would have caused the airlines’ chief pilot, Doron Karni, to step down as well, a move that under Israeli aviation rules would have forced El Al to suspend all flights.

The dispute centers on pay for pilots ages 65 to 67, who are barred from flying commercial routes any longer under new international rules but are too young to retire. They had been assigned to training functions, but that pays far less than flying – and when management sought last month to cut their salaries, pilots protested by calling in sick.

The eight pilots who resigned had tendered their resignation three months ago, but they were only due to go into effect this week, prompting management’s appeal to the court.

In response, one of the eight said, “Management’s petition to delay our resignations means they will be turning us, the pilots, into prisoners of the negotiations.”

Management and the pilots union, which was shown to the court yesterday, calls for pilots’ salaries to be no less than 60,000 shekels ($16,000) a month, the same as for ordinary pilots. However, the two sides are at odds about work conditions, specifically how many training sessions they have to conduct every month – eight or nine – and how they will be compensated in months they do fewer than the minimum.