Ongoing union strikes disrupt more domestic flights in New Caledonia

A "stop racial discrimination" banner at Magenta-Noumea Airport in support of the grounded Kanak co-pilot. Image: RNZ/FB

RNZ News

Domestic flights have been cancelled again in New Caledonia as a conflict between Air Calédonie and the workers’ union USTKE continues.

The carrier decided to cancel all flights today after last week’s disruptions and strikes over the status of a co-pilot. Some flights on Tuesday are also affected.

A meeting took place between the government, the province of the Loyalty islands, the USTKE (Union of Kanak and Exploited Workers) and Air Calédonie to reach a solution.

The territorial government said that “the two institutions are given until August 20 at the latest to find a solution. While waiting, the USTKE has decided to suspend immediately the strike”.

The co-pilot Chrystelle Cejo is reported to have had “training gaps” because of problems caused by the pandemic, which resulted in the company Air Calédonie suspending her contract without renewal, according to the union.

A media release from the union said the company had communicated negative comments to other training instructors on Cejo’s flying capabilities.

Test flight cancelled
On the last stage of her flight training, the instructor gave Cejo one more month until the last test flight which he then cancelled at the last minute and fired her.

UTSKE officials said she should be allowed to resume work and have her contract renewed immediately.

Image of a young kanak women training to be pilot.
Air Calédonie co-pilot Chrystelle Cejo … the airline alleges there are “gaps in her training”. Image: RNZ/FB

A former pilot of Air Calédonie, Ronald Urene told La Premiere television he did not understand why the company had been “so harsh” on the Kanak pilot.

“There are some pilots that have done only four to five months of training, and to take the pilot that has done 12 months and regard that as only six months of training — that is what is annoying us and I consider that discrimination.”

However, Air Calédonie’s CEO Samuel Hnepeune told La Premiere the decision to ground the pilot was fair because she did not have enough training.

“For me, it’s sufficient information and everybody is convinced,” he said.

“An instructor evaluates the level, and the person comes back after the test and fills the gaps of their training. That’s easily done, but instead the union is demanding an immediate reintegration of the co-pilot.”

‘Exit solution’
Aircal said in its media release that even though “the pilot with a lot of flying experience [she] has not attained the the level of expertise required to fly.”

In a tweet, La Premiere said: “According to the government of New Caledonia an ‘exit solution’ is being considered and the USTKE has suspended its strike.”

An unnamed union member told La Premiere that “the pilot did not get the same treatment as other pilots”.

“The company invented a standard of training as she was getting tuition which is very unfair on her,” he said.

Since August 4, Air Calédonie has been affected by the industrial action leaving more than 1400 people unable to travel to the Loyalty Islands.

A national football league match in Magenta between Tiga and Kunié has been cancelled due to the strikes.

USTKE union officials address a media conference
USTKE union officials addressing a media conference over the strike at Magenta-Noumea Airport. Image: Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes screenshot
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