Avianca, Colombia’s national airline, suspended ticket sales on September 20 after more than half of its pilots went on strike. Initially slated to last three days, Avianca extended the suspension until October 5 when negotiations between the airline, the pilots’ union, and the Ministry of Labor proved unsuccessful.
The pilots on strike are members of the Colombian Association of Civil Aviators (ACDAC), Avianca’s primary labor union, which represents around 700 of the airline’s 1,300 crewmembers. Avianca transported 29.5 million passengers in 2016 and is one of the largest airlines in all of Latin America.
The airline also hopes that cancelling ticket sales will ensure that passengers who are missing flights can be transferred. They addressed the issue in a statement, saying, “although 50 percent of the flights continue to be active, the sales closure is maintained to guarantee the service to travelers with reservations for this week.”
Recent negotiations have not resulted in any agreement with Avianca Executive Vice President Hernán Rincón, who said that ACDAC’s demands are too high for the company to meet. Demands include a 60 percent increase in wages along with benefits and advantages that would cost more than $274 million.
The union released a statement saying, “several of the pre-agreements reached during the negotiating days at the Ministry of Labor were modified.” ACDAC also said that Avianca’s final proposal was withdrawn before the union was able to review it and consider the terms.
This strike has caused Colombia’s leading airline to cancel more than 200 flights, losing $2 million with every day that passes. During the first two weeks of the strike, Avianca’s share price dropped by eight percent.
On September 28, Colombian Labor Minister Griselda Restrepo announced that arbitration court is the next step in the strike mediation, saying, “This is a procedure through which the labor ministry is delivering a legal and binding instrument to the parties, since it has been determined that air transport is an essential public service.” If the Colombian courts find the strike to be illegal, Avianca could begin to fire the protesting airline pilots.