The Spanish Airline Pilots Union (Sepla) and the Air Traffic Controllers Union (USCA) want to denounce the impunity of companies that dismiss their workers for fulfilling their obligation to take technical safety decisions to protect passengers. This has recently happened in the Canary Islands, where Canair, a subsidiary of Binter Canarias, has dismissed three pilots who reported incidents or refused to fly in airspace affected by volcanic ash, considering that the necessary operational safety conditions were not fulfilled.
The Social Court number 9 of Santa Cruz de Tenerife has rejected the nullity requested by Sepla and has only declared the dismissals unfair, leaving these pilots in absolute labour unprotected and enshrining the impunity of this type of companies, which prioritise their economic criteria over safety.
The group of air traffic controllers has also been affected in recent years by several dismissals that USCA believes were not justified, such as those carried out by SAERCO in 2017 against two colleagues who, for safety reasons, did not comply with the order of the Fuerteventura airport management to extend the opening hours of the facilities. Although both dismissals were declared unfair in court, the company did not reinstate the workers.
Sepla and USCA expressed their dissatisfaction on Monday to the Councillor for Transport of the Government of the Cabildo, Sebastián Franquis Verá, and requested an urgent meeting with the Ministry of Transport to address this issue and ensure that this type of decision affecting air safety is protected.
Transport professionals must feel supported and safe in the performance of their duties, which sometimes involve making safety decisions that can be costly for airlines or air navigation providers, but which are taken for strict operational safety reasons and can prevent accidents and save lives.
Aviation safety and volcanic ash
During the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma, the three pilots who have now been dismissed decided, on different flights, to follow their professional judgement against the wishes of the operations management: from not starting a flight they considered dangerous to flying around a volcanic cloud instead of flying through it. Volcanic ash is a material that can seriously damage aircraft fuselage and engines, and so pilots evaluated risks before starting a flight that could be dangerous.
Two weeks after reporting the risk to flight safety, the company dismissed them with a letter citing “loss of confidence”.
Sepla asked for the dismissals to be null and void, but the judgement merely accepts that they were unfair, requesting compensation for the workers. There is not a single allusion in the entire judgment to aviation safety or to the concepts of fair culture, according to which aviation professionals should feel free and protected to report on any safety-related issue. At the same time, it accepts that there is no justification for the dismissal, as the company itself acknowledged in court.
Sepla will give its full support to appeal the sentence, which considers seriously damaging not only for the worker, but also for all pilots of that airline, with the aim that in the future they can make the right safety decisions without fear of losing their job after an unjustified “lack of confidence”.