Safety fears over zero hour contract pilots

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, joined with calls of the European Cockpit Association (ECA) and the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) to condemn the rise of zero-hour contracts to employ pilots.

An EU commission funded report from the University of Ghent on Atypical Employment in Aviation has highlighted that of the 6,000 pilots surveyed more than 1 in 6 pilots in Europe are now employed in an atypical manner.

This not only has a serious implication for the individuals but also has safety implications as nearly half of self-employed pilots struggle to amend instructions of the airlines based on safety or liability objections. 

In Scotland the report has condemned the lack of trade union recognition by the low cost airlines and the failure of the UK authorities to investigate ‘bogus’ employment schemes.

Alyn Smith said:

“The scale of this problem is getting worse and must be addressed. Some of the worse cases highlighted, such as Norwegian Air, fly from Scottish airports and carry Scottish passengers.

“Not only is this clearly unfair on the pilots themselves but the safety concerns are deeply worrying.

“We need immediate action to tackle this and I call on both the UK and the EU to take action.

“I welcome that the Commission has proposed to bring forward a new ‘aviation package’ which was announced in the 2015 Commission Work Programme. This will be an important opportunity to close the loopholes that this report has highlighted and enabled these types of employment programmes to thrive.

“Safety and fairness clearly go hand in hand here and the way forwards is clear. These types of pilot employment conditions must be ended quickly.” 

Jon Horne, Vice President of the ECA said: 

“This study raises concerns that must be dealt with about sections of the European airline industry.

“When half of pilots whom their airline claims are ‘self-employed’ are unable to take independent professional safety judgements we have an unacceptable clash of social engineering and safety.

“It may be convenient for an airline to sidestep social security and employment tax obligations to lower its costs, but what responsible airline would deliberately isolate its key safety workers with casualised employment to do this? The practice is also shown to disproportionately affect more vulnerable young pilots, and is anti-competitive in that it undermines responsible airlines who do meet their societal obligations.

“Without MEPs like Alyn Smith pushing EU institutions to take action in response to this study, we will have an insidious, growing safety and social problem. Europe’s professional pilots urge other decision-makers to join this lead.”

Richard Toomer, Head of Communications at BALPA said:

“There is a real issue here of atypical employment practices in certain airlines across Europe. There is a clear role for the EU to further regulate employment law in this regard so that there is a level playing field amongst airlines. 

“Airlines with good employment practices should not be penalised for that by having to compete with airlines which use exotic employment models to get around their social responsibilities. 

“This must stop.”