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Urgent talks call over Gulf Air plan

Manama, October 11, 2012

Unionists at Bahrain’s flagship carrier, Gulf Air, are demanding urgent meetings to discuss the future of at least 1,800 staff who could be on the verge of redundancy.

Our sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News, reported yesterday that Bahrain's national carrier could be dramatically downsized as part of a restructuring plan designed to reduce its losses from BD95 million to BD58 million a year by 2017.

That includes massive job cuts that would effectively halve its workforce, slashing its fleet by 50 per cent and cutting routes with a new focus on Asia and the Arab world.

It is part of a deal put on the table by the government to secure National Assembly approval for a BD185 million bailout of the carrier.

The airline issued a statement yesterday in which chief executive officer Samer Majali said discussions were continuing over the airline's future and services were currently unaffected.

"Discussions between the government and parliament (and the Shura Council) are ongoing with a final vote to approve the funding and long-term plan for the airline expected within weeks of parliament convening next Sunday," said Majali.

"My main priority at the moment is Gulf Air's passengers and staff and the effect that the ongoing public discussion is creating.”

"I would like to personally reassure passengers that in the meantime Gulf Air's near-term plans for the airline are not affected.”

"We will continue to operate flights as scheduled and provide our customers with the highest levels of service and reliability."

Majali echoed those sentiments in a memo to staff yesterday, but Gulf Air Trade Union chairman Habib Al Nabbool told the GDN that news of so many pending job cuts had sent shockwaves through the airline.

He said the union was now demanding urgent meetings with the Labour Ministry, Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company and the National Assembly, which includes both parliament and the Shura Council.

"Most of those who will lose their jobs are Bahrainis and we can understand the older employees getting nice packages, but what about young aviation specialists who have just been employed for two or three years?" asked Al Nabbool.

"Most Bahrainis have families and are not single. Of course, when they read in the Press that their jobs are at stake, they will obviously feel down.”

"For an aviation specialist who loses his job, there are no other places in Bahrain where he can work because Gulf Air is the only place where his certificate or training is valid."

Meanwhile, he warned a ripple effect from the downsizing of Gulf Air would hit people working in related industries.

"When Gulf Air makes 1,800 redundant, an equal proportion of people working in related companies will also lose their jobs," he said.

"It would be illogical for those other (downstream) companies to retain the same numbers of staff while Gulf Air's operations get decreased."

Al Nabbool added Gulf Air management had not yet announced how redundancies would be decided, although the plan put forward by the government states that at least 76 per cent of remaining staff must be Bahraini.

"We don't know if redundancies will be made at once or in stages, what sectors will be affected and what jobs will be cancelled," he said.

"As of now we have no information until the management gives us a real insight into what's going on."

He added the lack of information was making matters worse.

"We need detailed information on what will happen to the airline," he said.

Although parliament and the Shura Council have agreed in principle to the plans, a final vote will only take place once the National Assembly resumes its meetings on Sunday after a summer recess.

However, the government received the initial green light to go ahead with the major restructuring after meetings with National Assembly representatives this week.

The plan also involves ditching 19 of Gulf Air's planes, leaving it with 20 aircraft, and shrinking its network to 31 routes.

A decision to overhaul the loss-making carrier was taken after MPs and Shura Council members demanded guarantees that a government bailout would not be squandered.

Parliament in April vetoed government demands to approve a rescue package worth BD664.3 million and the Shura Council later said it would only approve one-third of that amount.

The government came back with a new figure of BD185 million, which was unofficially approved by both chambers of the National Assembly on Monday.

Details of the strategy emerged on Tuesday during meetings attended by Transportation Minister Kamal Ahmed, Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company chief executive officer Mahmood Al Kooheji and representatives of the National Assembly.

However, the newly-formed Bahrain Labour Union Free Federation warned the plan could prove disastrous.

"If 1,800 lose their jobs now, it will create a lot of problems," its Arab and international relations deputy chairman Ali Albinali told the GDN.

"While we sympathise with Gulf Air and support any rescue package that has been thought of, it is completely unrealistic to say so many people could be made redundant."

He added that it was important to ensure any staff laid off received "proper" compensation packages.

"Hopefully, there will be a proper plan and proper packages offered to all those employees who will be asked to leave," he said. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Gulf Air | Bahrain | Manama |

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