Ethiopian Fires 21 Trainee Cabin Crewmembers

Former CEO of Ethiopian, Mr. Girma Wake, with  cabin crew  graduates
Ethiopian Airlines terminated the employment of 21 trainee cabin crew members last week, following an evaluation of their performance.

Ethiopian Airlines (ET) terminated the employment of 21 trainee cabin crewmembers last week, following an evaluation of their performance.

The trainees were restricted from going on any flights in a letter given to them two weeks ago that was signed by Genet Tadesse, supervisor of cabin crewmembers at he airline. A week later they received official letters informing them that their contracts had been terminated.

In the past, trainees had to remain temporary cabin crewmembers for at least two years, after which the management would conduct performance evaluations to determine who would become permanent staff, according to the cabin crew training manual.

Outside of its normal practice, ET started evaluating all cabin crew trainees in February 2011.

The airline has the right to ask trainees with poor performances to repeat the training for a maximum of four months and afterwards to dismiss those performing poorly, according to the manual.

However, some trainees felt they were wrongfully evaluated.

“I only served for about six months but was evaluated, against the procedure,” a crew member told Fortune on condition of anonymity two weeks ago after being fired from the airline.

The evaluation is conducted on criteria including the number of flights missed without a reason, punctuality, and the number of complaints made by customers or by the airline, according to sources in ET.

Claims by some crewmembers that the evaluation is unfair have created resentment among employees.

“I do not understand the methods of the evaluation,” a trainee who passed the evaluation told Fortune. “I don’t know why I was reinstated permanently as I have the same record.”

The evaluation was conducted because the number of missed flights by crewmembers and absentees had increased, according to sources at the airline who were not authorised to comment.

“I was only late once but my employment was terminated,” one of the former trainees told Fortune.

The airline’s labour union, of which the trainees are not members, has expressed intent to try to negotiate with the management informally, while some dismissed members said they are considering legal recourse.

As of December 31, 2010, the total number of cabin crewmembers stood at 670, 12pc of the total employees of the airline.

ET carried 319,000 passengers around its 17 domestic destinations while it transported 2.1 million passengers to 60 international destinations, according to the company’s eight-month performance report. The airline also secured 1.2 billion Br in net profits over the past eight months.

The discontent between the airline and the cabin crew is not new. It started when ET gave them a 15pc salary increment, which they complained was too small. This was followed by a decision of the top management to change the working conditions and compensation scheme of cabin crewmembers.

Increasing their duty time by one hour for both day and night flights to total 14 hours and 13 hours, respectively, aggravated the resentment of the cabin crew.

Their standby time at the airport in Addis Abeba was increased to six hours, of which only half is considered as duty time for which staff is paid. Only a quarter of the 12-hour standby time allowed at home was considered duty time. These measures resulted in a crew flying into a country and catching the next flight back without a break if the flights amount to 14 hours or less.

Cabin crew are not the only ones complaining; ground technicians have also complained about their 35pc raise. Only pilots have succeeded in achieving a salary increment of up to 180pc, arguing that their pay was not comparable with those of foreign pilots working for ET.

Amid the dispute over salary increments, ET asked the Department of Immigration and Nationality Affairs to restrict 60 ground technicians, who had passed the entry exams for other carriers, from leaving the country in February 2011.

The management of the airline also called on employees last week to contribute 15pc for their medical insurance from their salaries as part of ET’s cost reduction strategy, sources disclosed to Fortune.

By MAHLET MESFIN
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER