Emirates is trying to limit layoffs by offering workers unpaid leave, and it reveals a weakness in the company's unusual business model

Emirates cabin crews represent 15 nationalities on average, and most foreign employees rely on the airline for the visas that let them live in Dubai. Losing a job usually means losing that visa, and returning to a native country where the aviation job market may be small, or nonexistent.Emirates
  • Emirates will offer four months of unpaid leave to pilots and flight attendants, part of an apparent effort to delay or avoid further layoffs.
  • The Dubai-based airline has seen demand for international travel collapse during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Emirates president Tim Clark described the logistical challenges of downsizing a workforce like Emirates, which mostly consists of ex-pats.

Emirates plans to offer up to four months of unpaid leave to pilots and flight attendants as the coronavirus pandemic continues to decimate the demand for international air travel.

The leave offers, first reported by Reuters, come after the airline cut thousands of jobs and reduced salaries in June and July. According to Reuters, the eligible employees would take four months off between August and November, and would still receive benefits, including lodging.

Emirates has been among the airlines hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. Although airlines around the world have seen modest demand increases for domestic and, in some cases, regional travel, most long-haul travel remains constrained by various travel restrictions and anxieties.Advertisement

Emirates, based in Dubai, flies exclusively international flights. The state-owned airline's runs a global long-haul hub-and-spoke system, toting passengers between far-flung international destinations, connecting through its Dubai hub.

Although the airline has been able to keep some revenue flowing thanks to strong demand for air cargo, it has largely grounded its biggest passenger jet — the Airbus A380 — and reduced its routes and frequencies.

In an interview with Business Insider earlier this month, Emirates' president, Tim Clark, said that the airline was trying to balance staffing needs with the collapse of revenue from passenger traffic.
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"We've kept our staff on as best we can," Clark said. "Management reviews it every week. We look at our financial situation, we look at what we can afford and who, and how many we can afford to retain for the time being."

One complication, Clark said, is that Emirates relies on a workforce comprised mostly of foreign nationals. Emirates cabin crews represent 15 nationalities on average, and most foreign employees rely on the airline for the visas that let them live in Dubai. Losing a job usually means losing that visa, and returning to a native country where the aviation job market may be small, or nonexistent. If they can return at all: Clark said the airline is assisting laid off workers who were unable to fly home due to pandemic-related travel restrictions and flight cancellations, including offering financial assistance.Advertisement

"We are very, very alive to the fact that this is hugely difficult for the workforce because predominantly they're expatriate and they're not in their country of domicile, which means they have to be repatriated to where they come from, and a situation which is pretty stark in terms of future employment."

Meanwhile, Clark said, his airline is working up mechanisms to expedite the rehiring process for laid off workers, whenever travel rebounds enough to make that practicable. "If things pick up again sooner rather than later," he said, "we will bring them back so quickly their feet won't touch the ground."

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