15 July, 2020The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the aerospace industry hard, and the crisis is expected to last for three to five years. With business deteriorating, companies are announcing extensive restructuring, including laying off ten thousands workers worldwide.
As redundancy plans are presented in the MENA region, companies fail to assume responsibility. After benefiting considerably from the workers in Morocco and Tunisia, companies now dismiss staff without respecting the law.
The IndustriALL MENA aerospace union network discussed the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis and union responses together with the aerospace sector co-chairs from the US and France.
Participants denounced multinational companies who lay-off employees without fully respecting national laws, collective agreements and the rules of proper social dialogue.
The MENA region, and apart from the Gulf States particularly in Morocco and Tunisia, has become an important hub for the aerospace industry, as well as for maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircrafts and engines. More than 35,000 employees work in more than 250 companies in Morocco and Tunisia, with wiring harnesses being a major product.
Big global aerospace companies like Stelia (Airbus), Boeing and Safran have invested in the region over the past two decades because of low labour costs, a qualified work force, state incentives (e.g. special economic zones) and a proximity to Europe.
However, labour conditions are often poor with long shifts and hourly wages of less than US$2. Many companies also fight workers’ right to form a union, and fire trade unionists when they become aware of an organizing campaign.
Tahar Berberi, general secretary of Fédération Générale de la Métallurgie et de l'Electronique (FGME-UGTT), Tunisia, underlines that there is no social protection for workers and losing a job means immediate poverty.
“The companies ignore this and walk away from their responsibility. Right now, we want to negotiate solutions to avoid redundancies, like short-time work, reduction of working time for all etc. Further on, we want to add elements of social security into the bargaining agreements.”
Boutayeb Bouchkhachakh, vice general secretary of Syndicat National des Industries Métallurgiques et Électromécanique (SNIME- CDT), Morocco, says:
“According to Moroccan labour law, employers are obliged to pay employees a compensation of 1.5 months per year in case of a redundancies on economic grounds. In reality, they often try to get away with less than that.”
In the companies where workers are organized, unions fight back and have successfully negotiated alternative solutions to significantly reduce the number of dismissals. SNIME-CDT and UMT representatives report that through industrial action and negotiations, planned redundancies have been reduced and socially responsible solutions had been found, including temporary layoffs with a right to return to work after one year.
Atle Høie, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, says:
”We are working closely with our MENA affiliates to intensify union work in the sector. With the current crisis, employers need to understand that dialogue with unions is how we reach long-term, sustainable solutions.”