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ITF: Urgent industry response needed to curb aviation crisis

17 Jun 2022

Following today’s announcement by Gatwick airport that it will reduce its summer capacity, transport workers unions have called on the aviation industry to take urgent measures to address worker shortages. 

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) called on corporations across the aviation industry to take urgent measures to work more collaboratively with governments and unions to raise standards in aviation. The call for collaboration was made in order to restore the industry as an employer of choice and rectify capacity shortages, flight delays, long queues and beleaguered service levels that have plagued the industry for months.  

Millions of passengers worldwide are facing flight delays and cancellations as the aviation industry attempts to ward off further travel chaos, after dozens of last-minute cancellations. 

Stephen Cotton, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) General Secretary, commented:  

“Just as holidaymakers and passengers finally felt safe to travel, decisions made by airlines and airports during the height of the Covid crisis have come home to roost. The queues, delays, and last-minute cancellations we’re seeing today are a result of a loss of more than two million skilled workers across airlines, airports, and aviation services.  

“This move by Gatwick wouldn’t have been needed if calls from aviation unions for staff retention programmes, and years of warnings that the floor for employment standards was dropping too low, hadn’t fallen on deaf ears. 

“Employers must work collaboratively with unions and governments across the entire sector – from airlines to airports – to fix the underlying issues that have crippled the industry. To solve this crisis, transport unions are calling for a coordinated industry-wide response to improve workers’ job security, employment standards and ongoing development programmes. Maintaining workers’ rights is fundamental to the long-term sustainability of the industry.

“Employers and governments pointing the finger at each other will not fix this crisis, the supply chain that is so fractured that only an industry-wide response will fix this. Governments need to step in and sit down with employers and unions across the industry to find sustainable solution to the crisis.”

Union reporting revealed that workers who remain in the industry are struggling to cope with an overwhelming workload and are continuing to face elevated levels of passenger anger despite their best efforts. 

Mr. Cotton added:  

“Aviation must once more become an aspirational place to work – where workers feel valued. This will only happen with increased wage levels, strong health and safety policies, stable employment, and most of all a voice for workers in industry.

“It is worrying that amid the crisis, there are still employers who don’t get it. CEOs, like Wizz Air’s Jozsef Varadi, have called on workers to work through fatigue. In such a safety critical industry, these decisions can mean life or death, and employers cannot continue to compromise safety with short-term solutions. 

“There is no time for short-term fixes that move the crisis to another day. Aviation employers must sit down with unions to find actionable solutions to deal with immediate challenges, and future challenges coming down the line, for example shortages in air traffic control in the UK stemming from cuts to trainees during the pandemic which is compounded by three-year training requirements and up to a third of the workforce retiring over the next five years.

“Without a coordinated long-term response, we’re going to move from one crisis to another. Governments must pass urgent measures that keep the standards of employment, and particularly of safety, high, so that employers do not have to resort to curtailing business operations.” 

The recent successful agreement between ITF affiliate FNV and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, is a strong example of how employers can work with unions to find sustainable solutions to this crisis. By raising wages, employment conditions and addressing long standing concerns around health and safety and equipment standards, for all workers at Schiphol airport including agency and subcontracted workers, the airport authority has taken huge strides towards restoring its reputation as a workplace of choice.  

The ITF also urged governments and employers to pay attention not only to the crisis caused by the shortage of workers, but also to the alarms being raised by workers within the industry. The unions’ call comes following the tragic death of workers at Heathrow, UK, and Gimpo Airport, Korea, in the last three months. 

Mr. Cotton concluded:  

“We have pilots and cabin crew raising serious fatigue concerns in major aviation markets, including the US. Serious accidents are unavoidable when labour and safety standards are not upheld. We have workers reporting 100-hour work weeks doing everything that they can to get planes in the air and passengers moving through their airports.

“It is time for all players in the industry to work together to build a sustainable, resilient aviation industry.”

Ends

About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation is a democratic, affiliate-led federation of transport workers’ unions recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve workers’ lives, connecting unions and workers from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice of the almost-20 million women and men who move the world.