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Investors challenge budget airline Wizz Air over labour rights

Investors challenge budget airline Wizz Air over labour rights
Investors challenge budget airline Wizz Air over labour rights   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021
By Reuters

By Simon Jessop and Gwladys Fouche

LONDON – A group of 14 investors have called on budget airline Wizz Air to allow its staff to form and join trade unions amid concerns the company was “actively” discouraging the practice and breaching their human rights.

The group, including Denmark’s AkademikerPension and Britain’s Ardevora Asset Management, said the freedom to unionise was enshrined in a range of global and regional conventions and laws, but their research suggested a pattern of behaviour at the company to block employees doing so.

Wizz Air did not respond to a request for comment.

The letter, seen by Reuters, highlighted six examples dating back to 2014, when a Romanian court fined the company after 19 employees were dismissed shortly after starting a union.

More recently, in June 2020, the investors’ letter quoted an interview with Chief Executive Jozsef Varadi in which he said the company was “keeping out unions everywhere” as they were “killing the business”.

In April 2021, meanwhile, Wizz Air rejected calls from unions in Italy to agree a labour contract with them and told the country’s labour ministry it planned to operate without engaging with unions.

“Respect for workers’ rights is ultimately about caring about the safety of passengers,” said Jens Munch Holst, chief executive of AkademikerPension, a $23 billion Danish pension fund.

“There is a growing body of evidence of workers being blocked to join unions or sacked when they do so. This is completely unacceptable.”

While acknowledging that the company sought to manage labour relations through an internal body known as the Wizz People Council, the investors said they were concerned about its effectiveness in communicating staff concerns to management.

Specifically, the investors pointed to a recent whistleblower report flagging concerns around pilot fatigue and flight safety.

“Recognising workers’ freedom to form and join unions is not only a legal and moral responsibility of the employer, but also an important risk mitigation strategy,” the letter said.

“To remedy our concerns, we therefore encourage Wizz Air to publicly and formally recognise employees’ rights to form and join unions; and commit to non-discrimination on the basis of union membership.”

AkademikerPension’s Holst said if the board refused to act, his fund would ditch its stake.

“If the company remains unresponsive, and fails to formally recognise unions, our only option is to divest our holdings and place the company on our exclusion list.

“Our message is clear to the company. We will wait until 20 December and if our meeting requests are not met, expect exclusion.”