Unionists at Bahrain's national airline Gulf Air are set to meet with the management today seeking answers about the future of thousands of staff who could be facing redundancy.
Our sister publication the Gulf Daily News (GDN) reported last month that Gulf Air could be dramatically downsized as part of a restructuring plan designed to reduce its losses from BD95 million ($248.45 million) to BD58 million a year by 2017.
As many as 1,800 staff could be laid off under a deal put on the table by the government to secure National Assembly approval for a BD185 million bailout of the carrier.
The plan also includes halving the airline's fleet and slashing routes, although both parliament and Shura Council must first approve the proposal before it can go ahead.
Gulf Air Trade Union chairman Habib Al Nabbool told the GDN that he was hoping today's meeting would clear up some of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the company.
"We will be speaking about the future of Gulf Air and the staff situation," he said.
"According to law, any decisions made must be for the benefit of the company and the staff - but there must be a balance between them. Also, we have to address the issue of Gulf Air workers who are unique. They hold certificates that mean they are specialised in air travel.
"If they are jobless there is no other local company that can absorb them. Bahrain Air is too small, so these workers will be unemployed unless they leave the country and join another airline,” he added.
During today's meeting, which is scheduled to start at 11.30am, the union will also voice concerns over proposals to scrap routes.
"A main concern is that in the last 65 years, the company has built bridges with other countries and they are talking about cancelling lines," explained Al Nabbool.
"It is not only the loss of staff that we are worried about, but also the loss of air traffic rights. They are so expensive to acquire and if we give them up, there is no guarantee that we can purchase them again later.
"It happened before when the rights to Heathrow, in the UK, were given up and no matter what we cannot get that slot back. The loss of any routes will be a loss for the country, not just the staff, and other airlines are lining up to take these routes,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Al Nabbool pledged that the union would work equally on behalf of Bahraini and expatriate staff who could be facing the axe as part of any downsizing.
The GDN reported yesterday that parliament is due to hold a vote within the next few weeks on whether the current Gulf Air board should be replaced and whether a consultancy firm brought in by the carrier should have its contract cancelled. – TradeArabia News Service