Everyone seems to understand that there should be little or no place for zero-hour contracts and bogus “self-employment” on board of European aircraft (with some notable airline-CEO-exceptions). This is also the view of the European Parliament (EP), which is toughing up on social dumping. In a newly approved report, the EP is urging the European Commission and Member States to support direct employment as a standard and to restrict the use of atypical employment in aviation.
Although for many of the atypical employment structures it could be argued at length if they are legal, they continue to exist and flourish in Europe. This is why the EP Report highlights the findings of the Ghent study on Atypical Employment in Aviation. The study found that 1 in 6 pilots doesn’t have a direct contract with the airline they fly for, 40% of 20-30 year olds are flying without direct employment and 50% of Low Cost Carrier pilots are not employed directly by the airline. Although predominantly a “low cost” phenomenon, this has inspired companies such as LOT Polish Airlines to adopt the same “strategy” – shifting social security and taxes burden onto pilots. All LOT pilots “hired” in the past years are self-employed, contracted through an agency, related to the airline.
The potential negative impact of such precarious employment forms on safety is another crucial point in the EU Parliament Report. The most vivid example are Pay-to-Fly schemes (P2F), which create ‘perverse’ incentives for the individual pilot to fly at any cost (even if not physically or mentally fit), and for an airline to use ‘cheap’ P2F pilots to artificially lower its costs. Individual pilots may be tempted to perform a flight even if they are ill or tired, in order not to compromise their training or fall out of favour with their employer. The EP report recommends therefore a revision of “rules on initial training and on the licensing of aircrew with a view to eliminating shortcomings leading to the exploitation of pilots, such as pay-to-fly contracts”.
The report also urges for an improvement of the definition of ‘principal place of business’ and alignment of the definitionof ‘home base’ across Europe, in order to prevent ‘forum shopping’ for the most favourable social legislation and a subsequent race-to-the-bottom between Member States. The need for more effective cross-border labour inspections is also recognised by the report.
Although, this report is a non-legislative act, it is a powerful message that the EP has just sent out! Now it’s up to the EU Commission to come up with concrete proposals on how to limit atypical employment in aviation and its potentially negative impact on safety.
Quick overview of relevant articles:
>> Article 33 The EP urging the Commission and the Member States to support direct employment as a standard and to restrict the use of atypical employment.
>> Article 35 and 36 Highlighting the additional safety risks related to precarious employment.
>> Article 36 Calling on the Commission “to review rules on initial training and on the licensing of aircrew with a view to eliminating shortcomings leading to the exploitation of pilots, such as pay-to-fly contracts”.
>> Article 32 Calling for an improvement of the definition of ‘principal place of business’ and alignment of the definition of ‘home base’.
>>Article 34 Calling for “the social rights of flight and cabin crew to be protected”.
>> Article 28 Calling the Commission and member states to combat bogus self-employment.
>> Article 6 Calling for more effective cross-border labour inspections.