A need to act in order to effectively prevent social dumping does not only exist in road transport; there is also a lot to do in the aviation sector. Strikes took place on Friday 10th August 2018 in various locations of the low-cost airline Ryanair, because pilots and cabin crew wanted to draw attention to the poor working conditions and the lack of willingness to negotiate by the management.


Employment contracts according to pilots' respective locations and no longer pursuant to Irish law, an end to pseudo self-employment, a fair and transparent system of change of location, fair health and pension regulations and a genuine dialogue between employers and employees have long been important demands of striking Ryanair pilots and cabin crews. For years, trade unions have time and again pointed out the poor working conditions provided by low-cost airlines.


However, these demands have not persuaded the management to(?) relent. That is why the European confederations of the transport trade unions have now called on the EU institutions. In an open letter to representatives of Commission, Council and Parliament, the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) spell out their criticism and their demands. Following the operational difficulties, which mean that hundreds of flights were cancelled, Violeta Bulc, EU Commissioner for Mobility & Transport, had promised trade unions a “Social Package in Aviation” last year. However, according to the trade unions, the EU has failed to take significant action, which had led to the current strikes. The initial problem is that the employment contracts of pilots and flight attendants are based on Irish law and not on the respective tariff agreements in the countries of their main location. However, this is not in contrast to applicable EU law. In addition, trade unions are missing the bases for a social dialogue with Ryanair, to enable them to negotiate substantial changes for the benefit of the workforce. Apart from that, low-cost airlines often use temporary work agencies to recruit personnel. According to the open letter, the Commission should also issue regulations, which provide an appropriate definition for temporary employment in aviation to guarantee equal treatment of temporary staff.


In a Study of 2015 by the Institute of Social Law of the University of Ghent, which was co-financed by the European Commission, 16.1 % of the questioned pilots stated even then that their employment was atypical. 5.4 % had been employed via temporary work agencies and pseudo self-employment is also widespread in particular among young pilots. These constructs mean that in case of illness, holiday, pregnancy, cancelled flights or flight schedule changes, personnel lose their claim to payment. The “Pay-to-Fly” concept widespread with regard to low-cost airlines: young pilots have to pay the airlines to enable them to collect flight hours in order to increase their chances of employment. 84 % of all pilots with atypical contracts, who were questioned, work for low-cost airlines. This equally affects cabin crews. In particular Ryanair employs a large number of flight attendants through temporary work agencies.


The company working with sub-contractors also makes identifying the liable party more difficult, a reason why the “Home-Base Principle” presents an important demand of the Cockpit Association (VC). This is about the allocation of personnel to respective locations, based on the latter’s applicable social legislation they should be employed. In, 2015 9 % of the people questioned stated that the location that was allocated to them did not correspond with their actual location.


Backing for the strikes of the personnel came also from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which, with regard to the planned actions by the pilots talked of a “positive signal”. In particular the cross-border strikes would be a signal to other international companies, which would play their employees against each other. Meanwhile, the German United Services Trade Union (ver.di) announced that, following a recognition agreement in June, it had started tariff negotiations with Ryanair in Dublin. The VC also holds parallel negotiations with the Ryanair management on behalf of the pilots. These negotiations with partner organisations from more than 13 countries are taking place within the scope of the campaign initiated by ITF “CabinCrewUnited”. In the meantime, some countries have been able to report progress. The Italian Airline Pilots Association ANPAC announced on August 28th that agreement has been reached. Negotiations will also soon be finalized in Ireland. This represents a signalling effect for all other negotiators across Europe.


Further information:

AK Europe: Aviation – Open and Connected Europe

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF)