Low wages, poor conditions and unsocial working patterns: leading causes of current staff shortages in aviation

10 May 2022

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been saying that a lack of available staff would be an issue in the aviation sector, and finally, it has arrived.  

Almost three-quarters of ground staff in Europe were out of work at the height of the pandemic. Given the precariousness of their contracts and the exposure to health and safety issues, long working days, and shift work, most of them have decided not to return to aviation. Similarly, we see the same issues with cabin crew who have found better jobs in other sectors of the economy and have no interest in returning.

Member states and airlines have been complicit in this problem as they freely gave and received state aid throughout the pandemic without any requirement to maintain employment. So, the aviation industry is currently a capacity crisis where people are simply choosing not returning to work in the sector. Hiring people seems mission impossible right now, as most aviation workers have already found better jobs elsewhere due to their transferable skills and better pay and conditions in other sectors of the economy.

The industry is very much reaping what it has sown, believes Oliver Richardson, Chair of the ETF Civil Aviation Section. On a sad note, he added:

 “Low wages, combined with poor conditions and unsocial working patterns, have made the industry unattractive and caused a sector-wide recruitment crisis. These problems will have to be resolved not only with pay increases but also with improvements in other working conditions. These will help ensure that an aviation job is both economically and socially sustainable for those working in the industry.”

In the aviation sector, the highest cost is labour, and, one year after another, more and more aviation workers have been outsourced. It should not come as a surprise that airlines are now squeezing these outsourced companies for greater profit, and that squeeze is being pushed on to the workers. Much of the EU’s legislation is also supporting this kind of behavior, in particular the 26-year-old Ground Handling Directive which mandates mass liberalization and a race to the bottom in the ground handling sector.

It is not the first time the ETF is saying that unless there is a fundamental change in the economic practices of the sector, and an active engagement to improve working conditions, things will worsen.