ETF defending an ambitious social clause at the Aviation Summit in Vienna

4 Oct 2018

ETF is participating in a panel at the EU Aviation Summit which is taking place in Vienna on 3rd and 4th October 2018.

We defend the introduction of a safeguard social clause in Air Transport Agreements to protect our social rights, compensate for the negative social effects that might result from a further liberalisation and improve the terms of employment in 3rd  countries. This has been the full intervention of François Ballestero, ETF Political Secretary for Civil Aviation:

The further liberalisation of air transport services has major consequences for the labour and social situation of the workers involved. It also increases labour mobility with tensions between the rules on free movement of services and establishment on the one hand and the safeguarding of social standards on the other hand.

The introduction of a safeguard social clause in Air Transport Agreements would safeguard social rights, compensate for the negative social effects that might result from a further liberalisation and improve the terms of employment in 3rd countries. To the ETF, it should be based on the Monti Regulation which foreseen that the fundamental rights cannot be affected by the implementation of the Regulation. This type of clause ensures the free movement of services and safeguards the rights of the workers. What does this mean? It means that through the combination of the regulatory cooperation and convergence this safeguard clause in the EU Air Transport Agreements can play a role in the protection of labour standards of both parties and prevent the lowering of the labour conditions and social dumping. This spirit and intention should be included in all parts of the ATAs; in the preamble with the whereas, in the articles and in the annexes, including in the Dispute Resolution. As a matter of fact, it is not the case in the current and past negotiations between the EU and third countries.

Yesterday in the opening session, Commissioner Bulc often referred to the need of having a systemic approach in aviation. It is exactly what is missing in the current ATAs negotiations because a systemic approach makes the link between separate issues, creates interdependencies. Let’s take, for instance, the current negotiations with Qatar. Nothing is written, so far in the draft, in the ‘whereas’ about the protection of workers, the article 7 refers to ‘Fair Competition’ and there is no link with the social clause. A real fair aviation refers to the safeguard of the social rights against potential unfair practices. In fact, the link between fair competition and social rights should be included in this article. The article 20 refers explicitly to the social aspects in which the parties from both sides commit themselves to implement the agreement in a way that does not undermine labour rights. But undermining is not lowering. The difference is huge for the workers and nothing is planned to have information exchanges (which facilitates a possible convergence) and no reference to the social clauses in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. Such reference would have shown a prospective vision from the EU side. Interesting to note that inside the Dispute Resolution mechanism, article 7 (referring to the Fair Competition) is excluded and that the Joint Committee shall only develop cooperation on the social effects of the Agreement.

If I wish to be a little provocative, I would say that we have in front of us an empty box, which means that the EU, in order to open the market, usually opts for a soft pressure on the other parties in the event of non-compliance with the social clause as the handling of labour violations is explicitly excluded from the general dispute settlement procedure established for other issues in these kinds of agreements. It makes it clear that they are nothing more than a declaration of interest (“develop cooperation”, “affirming the importance of the social dimension”) without the possibility to really enforce labour standards, not guaranteeing that the existing legal rights of employees are preserved. This confirms the rather empty shell of these social clauses and the lack of a real enforcement and sanction mechanism.

Let me add that in a systemic approach, we should also analyse the effects of the introduction of a measure on the other aspects of an agreement. For instance, we understand that the EU is open to the introduction of the 5th freedom (even limited) to the ASEAN countries. Considering the weak level of the social clause (which was discussed without the possibility of the 5th freedom) do we measure really the bad effects that this opening would have on the jobs and the social rights of the EU workers? If we really care of the EU workers, as it was constantly said in the Summit, we ask the negotiators and the MS to refuse that ASEAN airlines can develop their services inside the EU countries. If we open this door, other countries will directly ask negotiations with the EU. We are not protectionnists but it is time that the EU protects the jobs of the EU workers. In conclusion, for all these reasons, ambitious social safeguards clauses are paramount for the ETF in all the Air Transport Agreements.