Air Transport World

Such a bad experience. (Swissair's management of its Sabena unit)(includes related article)

As Sabena is wracked by labor turmoil, Swissair takes a hands-on approach to managing its Belgian investment

BRUSSELS---Perennially troubled Sabena, dogged by years of losses, hopes its association with Swissair and Delta can turn it around. No one predicted smooth sailing to reach that goal; nor has it been smooth in the year since Swissair plowed Bfr10.5 billion in equity and debt into Sabena in exchange for a 49.5% stake in the Belgian airline (ATW, 6/95). The most recent storm was the forced resignation of CEO Pierre Godfroid and his replacement by a respected, longtime Swissair executive, Paul Reutlinger, in late February.

Departing Sabena along with Godfroid were GOt Gery Daeninck and Executive VP-Flight Operations Raymond Aelvoet. Rounding out the new management team, in a typically balanced Belgian linguistic 2-step, Dutch-speaking board member Jan Huyghebaert, a prominent banker, was named interim chairman, and French-speaking Philippe Suinen, ex-chief of staff for Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister, became vice chairman.

Godfroid's ouster follows a series of strikes at Reutlinger Sabena that began last fall, after he declared his intention to scrap existing labor agreements following expiration of wage-restraint accords last summer. Although permitted under Belgian law, the action would have been unprecedented. Godfroid sought to replace the agreements with a 3-year wage freeze, a 5% (25-min.) increase in the daily work schedule and increased job flexibility.

"Everything is negotiable," the embattled CEO insisted before his resignation. But this was too little, too late for militants among the 57% of the work force that is union-represented. …

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