ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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El Al inks deal to restore pilots’ salaries to pre-COVID rate, ending labor dispute

Alongside pay raise, pilots agree to prepare for resumption of long-haul flights later this year; dispute saw pilots call in sick, causing flights to be canceled

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: El Al planes are parked at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/ Ariel Schalit/ File)
Illustrative: El Al planes are parked at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/ Ariel Schalit/ File)

El Al signed an agreement with pilots on Sunday to restore their salaries to pre-COVID rates by the start of next year, ending a months-long labor dispute which had seen daily disruptions to flights.

A separate demand by the pilots — to be represented by an independent, professional union separate from the union that represents all El Al staff — was left out of the understanding.

The disputing parties welcomed the deal, which will be valid until 2025, with Arnon Bar-David, chair of the Histadrut labor federation, expressing confidence “that the agreement will return El Al to growth,” after difficult years of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Pilots had been calling in sick, forcing flights to be canceled, on a daily basis during the peak travel season, while they demanded that their paychecks be increased in accordance with a previous agreement signed in 2017.

El Al had requested an injunction to force pilots to come to work in June, but the Tel Aviv Labor Court rejected the petition, telling both sides to return to negotiations, but also urging them to maintain a regular flight schedule.

In addition to the salary raise, the deal included the pilots committing to attend a training course to fly the airline’s Boeing 777 aircraft, which have been grounded since 2020, in order to service long-haul flights scheduled later this summer.

If the jets do not return to service, El Al will be forced to cancel several lines, and pay out millions in compensation to customers.

Israel’s national carrier will also hire additional pilots, giving preference to those laid off before the pandemic.

El Al CEO Dina Ben-Tal Ganancia praised union leaders and the pilots for reaching the agreement, and vowed to tackle the challenges faced by the airline.

“Though the rate of El Al flight cancellations is low relative to international companies, we will always strive to reduce the scope of cancellations to a minimum,” she added.

Ran Alkabetz, chair of the El Al pilot’s committee, thanked Ganancia for “choosing to end the dispute amicably,” and praised the CEO for making the decisions required to ensure the company’s growth.

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