Aviation unions meet to discuss impacts of COVID-19 and the way forward

25 Jun 2020


ETF’s civil aviation Section met last week in a series of online meetings. On the agenda? Country reports, discussion of similarities and differences between the aviation sectors and impacts of COVID-19, as well as plans for the future.

Lack of compliance and coordination

European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has played an important role during the pandemic, through its guidelines and safety directives. The ETF has been working closely with EASA since the beginning of the pandemic to make sure that the health and safety of all aviation workers’ are protected. Nevertheless, unions from around Europe report on the continuous lack of compliance in some employers,  confirming that there is still room for improvement. Differences in implementation of guidelines can create a lot of confusion for workers as well as passengers. Lack of coordination is currently resulting in issues in the check-in processes, boarding and PPE requirements, and departure and arrival measures in airports.  The participants agreed to continue their work on monitoring and reporting on the situation.

Pressures following lack of funding

Reporting on the situation in air traffic management, the affiliates emphasised the absolute lack of funding that their employers, ANSPs, have been dealing with. This has translated into pressures on workers, with worsening of working conditions, firings of existing employees and workers in training, and no new recruitment. Having experienced lack of dialogue and lack of understanding with the European Commission over the recent weeks, the ATM Committee continues with awareness-raising activities, such as the Save Your Sky petition.

Difficult negotiations

Representatives of cabin crew and pilots have been spending their days in negotiations with airlines. Job losses have been announced by many affiliates, and trade unions are working hard in protecting jobs and making sure that the employers don’t use the crisis as an excuse to worsen working conditions. Health and safety is also a vital issue at the moment, as cabin crew is in direct contact with passengers. They pointed out that some health and safety measures such as wearing protecting masks, can cause fatigue, and more work needs to be done to ensure workers are safe in all aspects.

On the back of the crisis, another push for lowering labour standards for cabin crew and pilots emerged – dilution of flight time limitations. ETF will continue to work closely with EASA on monitoring the derogations and deviations.

Precarity and understaffing

Precarious working conditions are becoming normality throughout the aviation industry, with the workers in ground handling services being hit very hard like other aviation workers. Lately, their working conditions have been worsening further, with some employers pressuring them to perform tasks alone that otherwise require teams of workers, putting them at risk. Some groups of workers are facing new threats because they’re performing tasks such as deep cleaning of the aircraft. Participants reiterated that unions need to stay vigilant to detect any risks to health and safety.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the aviation industry, and all groups of workers – in ATM, ground handling, and cabin crew – are dealing with its effects. Uniting them last week was a joint demand – help for the industry is urgent, and it must be part of a Europe-wide plan. A plan that covers all categories of workers, whatever their type of contract and whatever their work position.

The ETF is currently working on further developing its plan for the future of aviation, which will be published soon. Stay tuned!