To bring about just transition, aviation industry must focus on people, not profits

7 May 2021

Recognising the importance and urgency of the climate crisis, the ETF is taking steps to become a strong voice of workers regarding the green transition. Our work is grounded in a broad understanding of sustainability that includes a strong social dimension.

In April, the ETF held a series of internal discussions on sustainable aviation, with guests ranging from employers’ groups to environmental NGOs. Some clear-cut themes emerged from the lively debate, building a foundation for the ETF’s future work on the topic.

“Workers pay” will just not fly

One of the cornerstone principles in environmental and climate discussions is “polluter pays”, alluding to the fact that the primary responsibility of addressing this crisis must lie with those who caused it.

Unfortunately, the reality in aviation is closer to “workers pay”, with the effects of the changes on workers either ignored or not addressed adequately. ETF affiliates agree that this is just not good enough: workers have not created this issue, and they shouldn’t be made to pay.

The responsibility for the climate crisis, in other words, does not lie with them, and it’s up to those who have profited – and continue to profit – from the industry’s growth to bear the costs.  Businesses have been ignoring the calls to take immediate action for years and only recently started to take some steps to address it after pressure from the public.  The aviation industry’s drive for profit over everything must stop, and businesses must take responsibility for the environmental impact and invest in change. This investment needs to be supported by governments to be realistically socially and environmentally sustainable.

Putting the voice of workers at the centre of decision-making

At the same time, workers can contribute to finding concrete solutions for the necessary transition, as they have important insight into the industry. Air traffic controllers, pilots, cabin crew, and ground staff are all experts on the everyday running of the different aspects of the industry. They are aware of the many barriers to and opportunities for improvements in environmental and social sustainability.

Furthermore, any changes introduced to the industry, ranging from introducing new fuels to changes to flights routes or quantity of flights itself, will primarily affect all workers in civil aviation. Therefore, they must be included in all discussions about the future of aviation and have a say in how measures are introduced and how a just transition is carried out.

All decisions that will affect workers must be made through social dialogue.

An opportunity for fundamental change

Finally, unions agreed that a green transition is an excellent opportunity to improve the industry as a whole.

Throughout the past year, aviation workers have been dealing with the effects of a crisis caused by a global pandemic. They have faced unemployment, lower pay, and general insecurity. The ugly parts of the industry became very apparent, with many companies using the crisis to attack workers and unions.

After decades of liberalisation, deregulation and incessant race for profits, the industry is precarious for workers and bad for the environment.

A just transition can be an opportunity for fundamental change that will address the current lack of social, environmental, and economic sustainability. Meaningful discussions must be had about the future of work, working conditions, working hours, and safety, and what these can become in the process of a just transition.

The industry must move from a profit-driven to a more socially conscious approach. The ETF is committed to building bridges between different stakeholders and providing workers’ insight in the creation of just transition plans.

Stay tuned for further developments in the near future!