A Danish pension fund has announced that it would sell its stake in Europe’s Wizz Air due to alleged violations of “human and labor rights.”
The Hungarian low-cost carrier has been heavily chastised for refusing to recognize workers’ rights to create and join labor unions. Employees who attempted to form a union have been fired promptly.
In a statement released on Monday, AkademikerPension said, “Patience ran out.” In December, the fund, along with 13 other investors, wrote to Wizz Air, urging the fast-growing airline to make quick reforms to its employee treatment.
“After dialogue with the company’s management, we have in no way been reassured that it will initiate the changes we have requested,” explained Jens Munch Holst, director of AkademikerPension.
“On the contrary. Therefore, we see no other way than to exclude the company”.
Wizz Air has “exhibited discriminatory behavior and sacked employees because of their union involvement,” according to Holst.
Wizz Air’s CEO, József Varadi, has openly said that the airline is opposed to unions, claiming that they could “destroy the business.”
Wizz Air, on the other hand, is said by the European Transport Workers Federation to be having difficulty recruiting workers in particular regions due to the terrible terms and conditions it is offering.
In Italy, where workers are accustomed to joining a union and working under a collective labor agreement, Wizz is said to have had difficulty filling vacancies.
Wizz also tried to break into the Norwegian market by deploying lower-paid Polish cabin crew instead of recruiting locals who would have made more money.
In a statement, Wizz Air said it took “engagement with its employees very seriously and we are confident that our structures and processes that have been in place to support open and transparent engagement are working extremely well, including our People Council, which provides a forum for employees to discuss important issues.”
Human and labor rights
In 2021, the European Cockpit Association (ECA), which represents over 40,000 pilots across Europe, polled its members to determine the greatest and worst airlines to work for.
Wizz Air was classed as a “social misfit,” the second-to-last rating category, joining other Ryanair Group carriers, according to the results, which were released on December 6, 2021.
Wizz had low marks for its union engagement and collective bargaining methods but got great marks for training and gender balance.
AkademikerPension, a 150,000-member pension fund, maintains a prudent investment philosophy and claims to have removed 575 firms and 47 nations from its portfolio.
“Management’s behavior is in conflict with human and labor rights in accordance with, among other things, the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business,” Holst explained on Wizz.
If we stay invested, the risk of being linked to a clear and chronic violation of our responsible investment policy is simply too great.”
As a result, AkademikerPension is selling its Wizz investment for DKK 22 million ($3.4 million). On the stock exchange, the corporation is valued at roughly $6 billion.
“Exclusion is the last tool in our toolbox. And if we are not ready to use it, we have nothing to threaten when we as an investor try to influence companies to change course in this kind of case. So now Wizz Air is out of our investment universe,” Holst said.
Wizz Air responds
Wizz Air responded with a statement saying it takes employee engagement extremely seriously and highlights actions to enhance employee communication as well as strengthen its sustainability efforts.
“Wizz Air takes the engagement with its employees very seriously and we are confident that our structures and processes that have been in place to support open and transparent engagement are working extremely well, including our People Council, which provides a forum for employees to discuss important issues, frequent employee engagement surveys and a regular “Floor Talks” program which allows for a regular two-way dialogue with our CEO.”
Even as the larger aviation sector struggled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the representative claimed Wizz was “totally committed” to supporting its staff and wants to generate new jobs.
“We consider our employees to be our biggest asset, which is why we have worked tirelessly over the last 18 months to preserve the jobs of over 5,000 colleagues and to provide them with countless opportunities within our network to develop their careers.”
Wizz Air said it had to fire roughly 1,000 employees due to the epidemic, but said it has rehired many of them and planned to hire another 1,000 in the following months.
It also stated that remuneration for pilots and cabin crew had been restored to pre-pandemic levels.