Colombia Travel Chaos to Continue Amid Avianca-Pilot Standoff

  • Union rejected call for tribunal during 60-day strike period
  • Airline has canceled about 250 flights a day on pilot strike

Colombian pilots said they’d continue their strike, dashing hopes of an early end to the disruption at Avianca SA that has grounded 250 flights a day by the nation’s biggest airline.

The country’s labor ministry had called for mandatory arbitration on Thursday, which Avianca said meant the strike would be lifted within 48 hours. Instead, the union said its pilots would continue to protest, saying they had a legal right to a 60-day strike before the tribunal could be called.

The case hinges on whether airlines qualify as an “essential public service”, which are prohibited from striking, with a court hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Avianca has a market share of about 60 percent in the Andean nation.

The labor dispute will only be resolved through negotiations and Avianca should continue the talks it decided to end this week, the union said. That means the local subsidiary of Avianca Holdings SA will head into its second weekend without about 700 pilots, or half of its total.

"An agreement wasn’t far away when we saw Avianca suddenly withdraw from talks," union President Jaime Hernandez said at a press conference. "They simply have to sit down and continue the discussion."

Avianca didn’t reply to request for comment. The airline said it had presented its "final proposal" on Tuesday to end a walkout that it considers illegal. The union said the offer was pulled just hours after it was made, before members could consider the terms. Workers made a counter proposal and say they’re still waiting for a response.

One cause of the dispute comes from a tax reform passed last year, which removed a benefit that pilots received for being considered air force reserves. The union says that Avianca had repeatedly used the exemption as an argument for not raising wages.

On Sept. 20, when the strike started, Avianca said it had made an 11.75 percent wage increase already, which was more than other companies had made.

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