Sven de Bakker: Do I still have a job tomorrow?

Sven de Bakker

English | Dutch

I feel miserable. I’ve got the flu and I’m staying in bed. Taking my time to get better is not an option however. I’m not getting paid these days, which is very inconvenient, and I have to get a doctor’s written acknowledgement of my being ill. I will then have to fax (who uses a fax these days??) this statement immediately to the company.

I haven’t got the luxury of being indifferent about this. The company I work for has made ‘management by fear’ the new business model: if you don’t follow the procedure for calling in sick to the letter, you’ll be granted an ‘unauthorized absence’. And with this company, it’s two strikes and you’re out… Keep in mind that if you’re a self-employed pilot, you don’t have any rights regarding social security and you don’t get paid enough to save up money to create a buffer. So an unauthorized absence (let alone two) is to be avoided at any cost.

Luckily I have a great immune system and I’m rarely ill. Still those two unauthorized absences are always on top of mind. For example, I have to drive an hour each day to get to work and the chances of getting stuck in a traffic jam are high. Leaving extra early and knowing every possible route helps. Above that I am fortunate to have colleagues who help to cover for a minor delay. More than one unauthorized absences have been averted that way.

And what if your car breaks down? That’s also a way to risk an unauthorized absence. At one time my car had a broken battery and wouldn’t start, and as it was four in the morning I couldn’t do much about it. Although I’m ashamed to admit it; I lied and called in sick. I felt bad about it for days, but I still had job.

And then there was that amazing moment that I became a father for the first time! While I was flying, my wife gave birth to our son. Not the dreamed scenario, but an occupational hazard if you’re a pilot. In the middle of the night I got to the hospital and even before seeing my newborn son, I called the company. I told them I would not work the next day. As always, a grumpy person answered the phone. “Not flying tomorrow? You have an arrangement? There is nothing in the system about an arrangement whatsoever. So this will be regarded as an unauthorized absence.” No congratulations of any kind. So instead of enjoying this special moment, I was mostly worried about my job again…

It’s terrible that even such a great moment in life, becoming a father, gets overshadowed completely by the fear this company lays upon its employees. But it could be worse. A colleague was in a severe car accident. He survived, but had to be taken to the hospital with an ambulance. He called crew control to say he couldn’t come to work but there was no sympathy, just an unauthorized absence. Another colleague got an ad hoc change of his schedule. On his day off he had to go to Italy. As it was his day to take care of his children he had to arrange something: friends and family were called upon, but unfortunately he couldn’t manage. So he had told the company he was very sorry, but that he wouldn’t be able to make it to Italy the next day. Guess what? His second unauthorized absence. Now he’s my ex colleague.


Sven is first officer at a large European low-cost carrier. Read his biweekly columns (in Dutch).


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Anne Bakker

Recensent. Anne is MA in Book & Digital Media (Universiteit Leiden) en is soms op de spottersplaats bij Schiphol te vinden, uitsluitend als de patatkraam er staat. Anne is verantwoordelijk voor de boekenrubriek.

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