‘Dramatic Rise’ in ‘Self-Employment’ and Zero-hours Contracts for European Aircrew

SunsetA new study carried out by the University of Ghent (Belgium) and funded by the European Commission has described the number of pilots now working with no direct link to the airline they actually fly for as “alarming.” The study, presented at a two-day conference in Paris this week said some airlines – especially in the low fares sector – are “drawing significantly upon a ‘casualised’ workforce.”
According to the survey with over 6,000 participants, more than one in six pilots in Europe are “atypical” employees, i.e. working through a temporary work agency, as self-employed, or on a zero-hour contract with no minimum pay guaranteed.
Emmanuel Jahan, Chair of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue for Civil Aviation, which commissioned the study commented: “The study clearly shows that casualised pilots are worrying about their working conditions and where to pay their taxes and social security. This puts crew under disproportionate strain. For the social partners a strengthened ‘home base’ principle for air crew is the key criterion towards a common definition of the workplace in labour and social security laws.”
According to the researchers, self-employment is one of the most prevalent types of atypical employment. Seven out of ten of all self-employed pilots work for a low fares airline. Yet, the researchers say, self-employment is sometimes used to disguise what is in reality regular employment, which creates an unfair competitive advantage for those airlines that use it and severely distorts the aviation market.
The study also highlights: “the safety implications of bogus self-employment” stating: “nearly half of self-employed pilots struggle to amend instructions of the airline based on safety or liability objections. Casualisation of labour in aviation is more than just about avoiding social security and taxes. It raises serious concerns about the safety of the industry.”
The survey says young pilots are the ones who are most affected by such casualisation of labour, recording that 40% of 20-30 year old pilots are flying without being directly employed by the airline. While acknowledging that finding a job is difficult for young pilots in the first place, it says they also face situations where they end up subsidising their airline, e.g. by paying the airline to fly its aircraft in order to gain flight experience (“pay-to-fly” schemes). This, the study says: “creates potential conflicts of interests for an independent safety professional, and constitutes straight financial exploitation.” It adds that much of this is possible because the existing legislation has loopholes or is not enforceable and says social security legislation, labour rules, and safety regulations must be adapted to ensure that employment models and management modes do not harm fair competition, nor damage the wellbeing or safety of passengers and crew.
“The study represents a real milestone – the most comprehensive, rigorous, and concrete attempt to quantify and qualify some of the employment problems in the aviation industry,” says Jon Horne, Vice-Chair of the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee. “We are keen to analyse and discuss together with decision-makers the action needed to ensure long-term stability in European air transport, in particular with regard to the detrimental burden placed on younger pilots, exemplified by abhorrent ‘pay-to-fly’ schemes