On 3 December, the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism held a hearing on the future of low-cost travel in Europe. ETF’s acting General Secretary Livia Spera was invited to speak, making her the only representative that would highlight the current state of the industry from the perspective of low-cost airline workers. All other five speakers were representing the low-cost airlines themselves (Ryanair, Eurowings, Blue Air) or airports (ANA Airports).
The first five speakers took the opportunity to emphasise what they see as the great achievements of the liberalisation of the air transport market in the past decades: higher connectivity for peripheral regions, job creation, customer choice, the democratisation of travel. Their presentations painted a rosy picture, where workers themselves were rarely mentioned, except for the cases where strong union action has resulted in at least marginal improvements in the past years.
ETF’s Livia Spera laid out the everyday reality of most of the low-cost airline workers, the people that are at the core of all the successes that the previous speakers presented. She emphasised that democracy is lacking in the industry and that the concept of democracy at work, while part of the European social model, is often disregarded by some low-cost airlines. She pointed out some of the industry practices: avoiding negotiations with unions; closures of bases in countries where courts have confirmed the higher working standards for their employees; and the pressure workers have been facing when taking sick days, resulting in many going to work while sick.
While the industry representatives have talked about sustainability in vague terms, their treatment of workers overlooks the aspect of social sustainability completely. “This is not just about ensuring European youth has an opportunity to travel affordably – we need to ensure they also have a sustainable future where they can get quality jobs!” Livia Spera emphasised in the discussion.
When the floor was given to Members of the European Parliament, many of the questions posed showed a high level of understanding of the everyday reality of those working for low-cost airlines. They pressed the presenters for clarifications on their attitude toward unionising and questioned their commitment to social sustainability by exposing the well-known stories of workers being forced into a self-employed status by the companies. The discussion proved that many MEPs understand the urgent need for the introduction of key changes in the sectors: improving the position of workers, as well as giving higher priority to addressing environmental concerns.
In the end, the European Commission confirmed that the institution is well aware of the identified issues and has addressed them in a report earlier this year. Following the report, a working group was established which brings together national labour and transport ministries. The first two priorities set by the working group are bogus self-employment in aviation and the need for law enforcement.
The ETF has an observatory role in the established sub-group – we will ensure that the voice of workers is heard throughout the decision-making processes and that workers rights are always at the centre of the discussions.
The hearing confirmed that the numerous workers’ rights violations in the aviation industry are well known – now is the time for action!