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Uniting against precarious aviation jobs

Labour inspectorates, employment ministries and civil aviation authorities, airlines, air crew and EU decision makers met in Brussels in early April at a workshop on “Socially Responsible Air Transport”. The unique configuration of the workshop is an initiative of the EU Commission, as a part of its efforts to crack down on violations of employment law by airlines and crewing agencies. The workshop, which took place several weeks after the EU Commission’s Social agenda report, focused on discussing practical solutions on how to deal with complex atypical employment cases and oversight-unfriendly business models. 

The debate  focused on the need to have airlines, agencies and wet-lease operators properly apply the EU Positing of Workers Directive to aircrew, on the need to apply the local labour law of the country where the crews have their ‘home base’ (from where their habitually work), and on the rapidly-growing problem of bogus self-employment among pilots. 

What’s on the agenda?

It is not surprising that these issues were at the core of the discussions as these are also the problems that stood out in a recent study of the EU Commission, the so-called Ricardo study. The study reveals, for example that neither the authorities nor the airlines know how Posting of Workers applies to aircrews. This explains why the majority of temporary work agencies & wet-leasing operators that have crews operating in a different country simply do not apply the Directive. Even though they should be.

The same is valid for self-employment of pilots: the Ricardo study shows that nearly all self-employment among pilots and cabin crew is most likely not genuine. If labour inspectorates looked closely into some of the most prominent airlines which (according to the study) use crew self-employment – e.g. Ryanair, Wizz Air, LOT Polish Airlines – chances are high they will discover crews are misclassified as self-employed. To prevent such abuses and facilitate oversight, ECA suggested mechanisms, for example a ‘presumption of direct employment’ for air crew. Such a presumption would mean that airlines employ their aircrews as ‘employees’. And that they can use self-employed air crew only if they can demonstrate to the authority that they do fulfill the criteria of genuine self-employment.

If labour inspectorates looked closely into some of the airlines which use crew self-employment, chances are high they will discover crews are misclassified

The workshop also showed that airlines are reluctant to apply the labour law of the crew’s Home Base country. But both the EU Commission and the Court of Justice of the EU recent decision are clear: it is the law of the crews’ Home Base, unless proven otherwise. 

During the workshop some airlines questioned the need to act. However, it was encouraging to see the other responsible parties strongly supporting the idea of socially responsible business and employment. They also share European pilots’ sense of urgency for tackling atypical employment, applying strict oversight by authorities & full enforcement of existing rules. Now, with the problems known and the stakeholders to tackle those problems identified, it is now the time for action.