Leading Colombian airline Avianca has so far fired 35 pilots this week. The move was decided during two disciplinary hearings on Monday and Tuesday that have come in response to last year’s extended, nearly-two-month strike by some 700 union pilots that ended last November after a Colombian court deemed the work stoppage illegal.
Among those fired were Colombian Association of Civil Aviators (ACDAC) union head Jaime Hernández and second in command Jorge Mario Medina. The two ACDAC leaders, and others fired, now have eight days to formally appeal, according to the Bogotá-based airline.
In multiple statements, Avianca announced that the 35 pilots were fired “for just cause.” Six other pilots have also been suspended, at least one resigned before a decision was made, and hearings for two other individual pilots have been postponed.
Further hearings are scheduled through March 6 to determine the fate of more than 200 other pilots who went on strike. Anywhere from 18 to 34 pilots will be involved in each hearing, per a report from Colombian magazine Portafolio. According to Avianca, each individual has the right to be present during the proceedings and the company is attempting to make the process transparent.
But the union has argued that due process is not being adhered to and, moreover, that the court ruling that originally put an end to the strike — a determination predicated on aviation being deemed an “essential public service” in Colombia — was rendered incorrectly. The union has also taken issue with Avianca’s decision to not yet fully honor an arbitration award overseen by the Ministry of Labor that included a wage increase, extended benefits to pilots, and other regulatory provisions.
Earlier this month, prior to the disciplinary hearings, ACDAC again expressed its dismay with the legal ruling that was reached last year and upheld this month by the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia. Hernández, in a statement, said that the court ruling the strike illegal represented a “new blow…for the rights of workers” and that the union will continue to push forward “until the right to protest and strike is recognized and respected.”
Hernández, in his February 13 statement, also claimed that the court did not properly consider and review ACDAC’s requests for additional study of the legal matters and work conditions underpinning the strike before reaching a verdict. “Once again, the judicial system acts against the rights of workers,” stated Hernández.
Hernández added this week, in an interview with La W radio in Colombia, that the union is prepared to continue to fight the matter. If it cannot receive what it deems fair treatment in Colombia, he said ACDAC will proceed to seek resolution with international bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the International Labor Organization.
(Photo credit: Avianca)