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Belgian Airline To Face Periodic Strikes For Rest Of December

December 8, 1995

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Intermittent strikes are expected to plague Belgian airline Sabena SA for the rest of this month, Bhrouz Shahobpour, spokesman for Belgian airline unions and pilots, said Friday.

The airline has been hit by two 24-hour strikes since Nov. 27, when it canceled some collective bargaining agreements with its employees in an attempt to break a deadlock over salaries and benefits for workers based in Belgium.

Meanwhile, Sabena spokesman Yves Panneels said the airline had agreed to a proposal prepared by government-appointed mediator, Bernard Leemans, but refused to give details of the plan. Leemans was unavailable to comment.

But Shahobpour said although the proposal had been noted, unions and pilots won’t negotiate with the airline until the canceled contracts have been reinstated.

Shahobpour also said the pilots won’t consider proposals by Sabena’s Chairman Pierre Godfroid that call for a three-year wage freeze at current levels, a 5 percent boost in working hours and more work-schedule flexibility. The proposals are part of Sabena’s business plan developed when Swissair acquired 49.5 percent of the Belgian carrier last spring.

The difficulties faced by the airline to some extent reflect problems faced by business in Belgium.

Sabena feels pinched by the fact that 80 percent of its costs are in Belgium, while 80 percent of its receipts are in foreign currency. The airline thus bore the full brunt of the Belgian franc’s strength this year against the dollar and other major currencies.

The airline also wants to lower labor costs. Last year, for example, a plan to transfer pilots to neighboring Luxembourg, where costs are lower than in Belgium, was dropped after a public uproar.

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