Aeroflot Suspending Unvaccinated Pilots

Russian national flag carrier Aeroflot has suspended several of its pilots for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. A spokesperson has said that at least six were either sent on unpaid leave or told to take a vacation without pay.

Aeroflot's Airbus À350-900 at St Petersburg Airport
84% of all Aeroflot employees are vaccinated. Photo: Getty Images

Aeroflot spokesman Mikhail Demin told RBC News in a comment carried by the Moscow Times that the pilots had been suspended. The pilot’s labor union has complained to Aeroflot CEO Mikhail Poluboyarinov, calling the move discrimination. They argued that other Aeroflot employees like flight attendants and technical staff did not face similar penalties for not being vaccinated.

No other Russian airline has done this

In a letter posted on the union’s website urging Poluboyarinov to lift the order to suspend unvaccinated pilots, president of the Cockpit Personnel Association (SCPA), Igor Deldyuzhov, said,

“No other Russian airline has similar suspensions. These measures toward employees provoke excessive social tensions and push them to quit.”

Deldyuzhov thinks that given that Aeroflot has managed to have 84% of its employees vaccinated for the coronavirus, it should not punish any of the airline’s 2,300 pilots who are not vaccinated.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Russia has three approved vaccines

Despite having three government-approved vaccines – Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, and CoviVac – vaccination rates in Russia are slower than in other counties. When speaking about COVID-19 vaccines on June 19, 2021, Russian Minister of Labor and Social Protection Anton Kotyakov warned that unvaccinated workers could risk being sent on unpaid leave.

He also noted that Russia’s Labor Code does not allow the termination of employment for those who refuse to get the vaccine. However, they can be suspended from work without pay if a mandatory vaccination has been declared in the region where they live.

Russia is fighting the highly contagious Delta variant. Photo: Getty Images

During the earlier part of the summer, when the highly contagious Delta variant was sweeping the nation, Moscow announced a series of steps to boost the country’s vaccination rates. One of the steps involved telling service sector businesses that at least 60% of their workers had to be vaccinated. If not, they could face fines and the threat of being forced to close.

COVID-19 vaccinations in Russia are voluntary

While insisting that the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Russia is purely voluntary, the Kremlin told vaccine-hesitant workers in jobs where vaccination was mandatory that they might want to consider changing jobs. Since the push to get certain workers vaccinated, many of Russia’s regions have followed Moscow’s lead by coming up with their own vaccination rules. And while this led to a sharp increase in the number of people becoming vaccinated, it has slowed down in recent weeks.

Many people in Russia don’t want to get vaccinated. Photo: Getty

Unfortunately, despite free COVID-19 vaccines being available since December 2020, only 39 million out of a population of 146 million are fully vaccinated.

While the Russian Labor Code says that employees cannot be fired for not getting vaccinated, suspending them without pay amounts to the same thing. They are basically saying that if you want to continue working here, you need to be vaccinated.

People will argue that businesses have the right to tell their employees to be vaccinated if that is company policy. Yet what we are seeing happen in the case of the Aeroflot pilots is a circumnavigation of the Russian Labor Code.

Do you think that Aeroflot has the right to force unvaccinated pilots to go on unpaid leave? Please tell us what you think in the comments.