Over the past month, we have heard that Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair has been cancelling up to 50 flights a day for more than six weeks, which has affected the travel plans of about 400,000 passengers.
The operator originally claimed it had to cancel flights because of a holiday scheduling blunder and flight-hour regulations. Since then, the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA) contended that it had at least two seasons’ notice of the new regulations, and the real problem actually lay with a shortage of flight crew, leading to the admission from Ryanair of a pilot supply issue.
It seems that in the face of growing pilot supply issues, the low-cost model is showing signs of strain, with pilots in a stronger position to seek alternative employment models and better terms and conditions elsewhere in the market.
Many of Ryanair’s pilots are employed via third-party arrangements and temporary agency agreements. This sees the operator able to ‘forum shop’ and avoid social security and other minimum standards legislation.
According to IALPA, more than 700 pilots have already left Ryanair this year, and there is also talk of industrial action across the operator’s European bases as tensions mount and pilots, as well as cabin crew, use the opportunity to secure improved terms of employment and job security.
Atypical employment models and the pilot supply issue have been discussed by NZALPA representatives at length this year – in Uplink, as part of our Annual Conference in June covering the impacts of deregulation and Open Skies agreements, and in our outreach to media, key stakeholders and ministers. The issues are being heard among industry stakeholders and support for our position is growing.
As these issues threaten aviation safety and job security, we are joined by other unions and organisations around the world in our efforts to ensure governments adequately understand and address the impacts of these issues.
As the dust settles after the General Election and, at time of writing, we await to see the makeup of the next coalition government, our aims remain the same. NZALPA will continue to prioritise the education of our policymakers on the impact of sub-standard work conditions and atypical employment models. We know that this situation is prompted by economic pressures on airlines as a result of Open Skies agreements, and could easily affect the safety of our crews and the travelling public. Our outreach will include lobbying against atypical employment and outsourcing in the New Zealand aviation sector.
As New Zealand’s tourism sector continues to boom, pilots and air traffic controllers remain a central pillar to the development and integrity of the national infrastructure that supports that industry. Maintaining reliable and safe services for New Zealand air travel means avoiding the path taken by European airlines such as Ryanair.
For New Zealand airlines and aviation professionals alike, part of avoiding a similar future relies on a government that understands the importance of tackling our critical issues of pilot supply and atypical employment head on.
As President Tim Robinson has said before, we are not anti-competition, but we welcome competition that is on a level playing field and does not encourage our airlines to enter into a race to the bottom.
Competition should not come at the price of safe working conditions and safe skies.
Have a great month.