SWISS cabin crew cancel flights by calling in sick amid working conditions row

SWISS cabin crew cancel flights by calling in sick amid working conditions row

In recent weeks, hundreds of passengers on SWISS flights have faced cancellations due to a shortage of cabin staff. Now, Swiss media has revealed that tired and dissatisfied crewmembers are taking sick leave to protest working conditions at the airline, leading to further cancellations.

SWISS flights cancelled due to crew protest, says Blick

On April 23 and April 30 the SWISS flights to Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires were cancelled. According to Blick, hundreds of passengers had to be rebooked on other flights, at great expense to the airline. 

The reason given by SWISS was that the entire cabin crew had called in sick on the grounds of fatigue. While it hasn’t been confirmed that what happened was a protest, Swiss media concluded that every member of the crew calling in sick at the same time with the same illness is too much of a coincidence.

On Sunday, Blick was granted access to a closed internal Facebook group of employees, who all celebrated the crew's actions. "It's probably the only way to be heard," wrote one SWISS employee, with another saying "A huge thank you to the crew for your courage and perseverance!"

Workers shortage and pandemic-era conditions put crew under strain

Speaking to Blick directly, an informant said the specific route between Zurich, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires is “incredibly strenuous,” with only a few hours of sleep between legs and only a day's rest before the return journey. In the latest Swiss employee survey, workers gave SWISS a poor review, citing pandemic-era job losses and the cutting of salaries for some ground crew.

Sandrine Nikolic-Fuss, from the Kapers Cabin Crew Union, said that because of the pandemic, SWISS had to enter “special crisis collective employment agreements” with its workers to avoid insolvency, leading to changes in work contracts, job losses, bonus cuts and a worker shortage that lasts to this day. On long-haul flights especially, many crews only spend a few hours in hotels before flying back to Swiss airports, which the airline itself admits is “very demanding and challenging."

SWISS to grant relief to long-haul cabin crew

The flight cancellations are one of a number of ways flight staff have been protesting their working conditions. Most noticeably, many crew members have started to wear a lemon pin badge, alluding to the fact that they are being “squeezed.”

In response, SWISS announced plans in mid-April to “counteract the currently challenging and stressful situation." On some long-haul routes, the airline confirmed that staff would be able to stay for two nights at their destination before the return leg, and that off-peak work would be adequately compensated, in what the Kapers Union described as “tangible relief.”

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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