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Pilot fears EasyJet passengers ‘could be unsafe’ if sickness records decide job cuts

Stock image of an EasyJet plane
An EasyJet pilot has spoken out against the company’s possible redundancy criteria – saying it could massively compromise safety (Picture: Getty Images)

EasyJet is set to make hundreds of pilots redundant in the coming weeks – and these cuts could in part be based on absence levels.

The budget flight giant is discussing possible redundancy criteria as it enters the consultation process with its staff, and one of the components could be looking at the individual’s sickness records.

A pilot extremely worried about the safety of both passengers and those flying aircraft has spoken to Metro.co.uk about his concerns.

‘It’s worrying for passengers’

‘It’s certainly worrying – or should be – for passengers who typically would never have to give a second thought about whether the pilots flying are under pressure to be there,’ said the captain, who remains anonymous for fear of the future of his job.

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‘If pilots feel pressured to work when they feel sick or unfit for duty, EasyJet is effectively removing a layer of safety.

‘If a tired or sick pilot goes to work, they may be more prone to error which just isn’t acceptable in a job with this level of responsibility.

‘Tiredness and fatigue is thought to impair judgement in the same way as drinking alcohol – would you want somebody to turn up to work if their baby had kept them awake all night, just because they felt they had to?

Passengers boarding an easyjet flight
He said EasyJet is ‘effectively removing a layer of safety’ if pilots feel pressured to fly when unfit or unwell (Picture: PA)

‘Would anyone want a pilot to attend work if they felt mentally unwell, but felt otherwise forced to go to work for fear of losing their job? This is the precedent set by EasyJet’s proposed redundancy matrix.’

He said he takes procedure and safety very seriously and feels motivated to speak up against the move – but says this is difficult to do in case it puts him in the firing line.

‘This is unnecessary and wrong’

BALPA, the union for British pilots, has said these proposals could undermine ‘key flight safety principles’.

Brian Strutton, general secretary for the union, said: ‘Flight safety is built on a culture of openness and not fear of repercussions. This is a well understood and fundamental tenet for everyone involved in ensuring our skies are safe.
 
‘It is unnecessary and wrong that EasyJet is intending to use sickness as a stick to beat its safety-critical staff. EasyJet has in the past rightly encouraged pilots to report in sick or fatigued if they are unfit to fly – that is in everyone’s best interest.

‘Now to turn around and say that doing the right thing means you may lose your job could have a chilling effect on the safety culture in EasyJet from now on.

‘We have yet to see any justification for the scale of job losses that EasyJet has proposed. We will continue to fight for every job and will resist any move to use the coronavirus crisis to undermine EasyJet’s reputation as a decent employer.’

The pilot agreed with BALPA when he said it was ‘surprising’ that management could see fit to use absence as a criteria to determine redundancies.

‘It sets a dangerous precedent going forward – that if you call in “sick” or “unfit” as we’re told to by law, it has been noted and may well be used against you in the future,’ he said.

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‘Funnily enough, in the Easyjet training material it specifically says, “Remember it’s ok to not be ok. If you need to call unfit do so, we will always support you,” but this move sends out the exact opposite message. ‘

The Air Navigation Order 2016 states a person must not fly UK aircraft if they know, or suspect, their physical or mental condition renders them temporarily or permanently unfit to do so.

A dad of two, the pilot said he has previously been forced to be absent from work after his children have kept him awake at night.

He added: ‘EasyJet has previously been very clear about this – the message is simply that if you’re sick or unfit for duty then you should call to have yourself removed from the flight.’

‘We would never compromise safety’

When Metro.co.uk contacted EasyJet for a response to these claims, the spokesperson stressed the exact criteria has not yet been confirmed, and said it would be based ‘more on behaviour’, such as no shows, than illness itself.

They said in a statement: ‘EasyJet is fully committed to working closely and constructively with BALPA throughout the consultation process. We have put forward initial proposals for discussion as our talks are at an early stage.

‘We would never put forward proposals which would compromise safety as we have an industry leading safety culture, as BALPA acknowledges.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands - September 15, 2016: Scenery Of Easyjet Passenger Airplane Flight Attendants Standing,Selling Something To Passenger, Talking To Passengers If They Are Willing To Something.Including Advertising Signs,People Reading News Paper,Sitting Down Nicely After Taking Off From Schiphol Airport Amsterdam The Netherlands Europe
The budget flight company is laying off 5,000 staff in total due to effects of the pandemic (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Safety is our number one priority and we are focused on doing what is right for the long-term health of the company and our people so we can protect jobs going forward.’

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They added there are several other criteria and the company would only look at ‘historical’ absences before the start of the pandemic, so if pilots fell ill with the virus or had to self-isolate this would not be counted.

But the pilot believes even if the criteria is eventually not used, the damage has already been done: ‘Safety has already been compromised, simply by the company’s suggestion of sickness-based redundancy.’

‘There are already pilots returning to work wondering if their sickness history is going to cause them to be made redundant – they might now be so worried about their future that they shouldn’t even be flying, but now they’re also going to be scared to call in sick or unfit,’ he said.

5,000 staff to be laid off

EasyJet announced at the end of June it will lay off 5,000 staff in total and potentially close three of its airport hubs in Stansted, Southend and Newcastle.

The travel giant, which says it will aim to minimise job losses ‘as far as possible’, said the changes are being made as a result of the pandemic.

Up to 30% of its workforce are at risk of redundancy, including 727 cockpit crew.

Despite this the pilot said the mood among staff is ‘one of collective strength’: ‘The spirit really is that we’re all in this together and, while of course there is some sadness and worry, I think the overriding feeling is one of unison with a sprinkling of disappointment in our management board.’

The captain however, who fears he is directly at risk as a new captain with multiple periods of absence in the last two years, remained certain that whatever the outcome of the cuts he would personally never undermine the safety of flyers.

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‘A sick or tired pilot may be more prone to human error,’ he added, ‘Pilots stick to the rules and there are clear consequences for those who don’t follow procedure, not least of which is the impact on safety.

‘I would never fly while ill, but I can see how EasyJet’s proposed redundancy matrix puts pressure on pilots to attend when they really shouldn’t, and just keep quiet about it if they’re actually unfit to fly.

‘I would sooner not fly for an airline with a relaxed attitude to safety, than work under duress.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

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