Tunisia’s state airline wants to lay off 1 200 workers to ease financial difficulties which led to flight delays and aircraft grounding due to lack of spare parts, its chief executive told Reuters.
Tunisair with a fleet of 30 aircraft employs 8,000 staff, part of a bloated public service which government has failed to trim due to resistance from labour unions.
By comparison Morocco’s state-owned Royal Air Maroc, with more than 50 aircraft, has some 3,300 workers, according to its website.
“The company is suffering major financial difficulties because of the high number of workers and its wage bill,” Elyess Mankabi, company chief executive, said.
“We’ve proposed to lay off 1,200 workers and await government approval for this programme, which will help the company ease its financial burden and get out of crisis,” he said.
“In all parts of the world, each plane is supposed to have about 80 employees but at Tunisair, each plane has 165 workers, which hits the company’s balance sheets,” Mankabi said.
The company has suffered losses since the ousting of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 sent Tunisia into turmoil, deterring tourists and investors.
It faces increased competition as Tunisia negotiates an Open Skies agreement with the European Union.
Tunisair has been expanding to Africa to tap new markets in anticipation of growing competition at home.
Angry passengers vented frustration on social media about delays, which Mankabi blamed on a shortage of aircraft — the fleet of serviceable planes has shrunk to 24 from 30 as Tunisair lacks funds to carry out maintenance.
There was no immediate reaction from government and labour unions which fail to agree on restructuring of Tunisair or other public sectors with high numbers of staff.
Some Tunisian lawmakers demand a sale of the firm instead.
The Afek Tounes party, not part of the ruling coalition, said in a statement government needed to intervene urgently to rescue Tunisair.
The Open Skies agreement with the European Union will open all airports except Tunisair’s main base in the capital to foreign carriers, with Tunis airport included after four years.
“It will not be easy for the company after Open Skies, which could come into force this year. But we have a reform programme for the company. If implemented, we will be in the right direction,” Mankabi said.
He said restructuring would cost about one billion Tunisian dinars ($363 million).
Mankabi expects the company to lease six aircraft to boost its fleet in 2019 as the airline launches two new routes in Africa by the end of this year, to Sudan and Cameroon, bringing the number of African routes to 10.