Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

General Manager's Note


Every year the Global Pilots’ Symposium brings together aviation representatives from every International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) member country to discuss key international issues.

This year’s symposium, in Montreal, was no different. In particular, panels and discussion groups explored the incredibly important issues of atypical employment models and the human impact of change.

New Zealand pilots and air traffic controllers (ATCs) at all levels often distance themselves from many of the global issues impacting our industry; if the symposium taught us anything it’s that the issues affecting our colleagues overseas will be on our doorstep in no time unless we take action now.

It’s not a case of scaring the horses, but rather taking a global view of New Zealand’s aviation industry and the real impact these issues can have unless we utilise our foresight and relationships with employers to prevent the deterioration of our terms and conditions and the safety and quality of air transport in New Zealand.

Four atypical employment models have been identified as active overseas, predominantly in Europe. These are summarised as:

  • use of recruitment agencies for cabin crew whose labour is then hired to an airline
  • use of recruitment agencies for pilots where the pilot registers with an identified accounting firm and is hired by the airline as self-employed
  • use of recruitment agencies for pilots whose labour is then hired to an airline
  • young pilots paying airline or labour intermediaries to fly (‘Pay to fly’ schemes).

For many of these models costs arising for training are borne by the ‘employee’ and worker benefits such as leave are subject to the legislation of the airline’s home country – not the recruitment agencies or the pilot/crew.

International transport is, by definition, a sector where the legislation of different countries comes into play. Depending on the model and where the worker is based, issues around taxes and social service entitlement might no longer be a consideration and, while pilots are employed, their working conditions are inferior and they receive comparatively lower pay.

An example highlighted at the conference in Montreal was the shocking case of 100 pilots in Germany who have been accused of deliberately creating sham companies to defraud the state, leading to these pilots, who are in their early twenties, having their homes raided by the authorities and being charged with social tax fraud. The pilots now face heavy fines, loss of their licenses and possibly custodial sentences.  This unfortunate situation has arisen because of the atypical employment arrangements forced upon them by the airline and consequent complicated cross-border tax confusion. 

A report Civil Aviation in an Age of De-Regulation: Social Risks and Benefits by Darragh Golden and Anders Underthun summarises it well: “The airline believes that the jurisdiction governing the terms and conditions of employment, including social contributions, is determined by where the employment contract and the aircraft is registered. All other factors are conveniently deemed as being irrelevant. The fact that it provides the airline with a competitive advantage, albeit unfair, is of exclusive benefit to its shareholders.”

These key statistics demonstrate the seriousness of the issue in Europe.

  • 32 countries in Europe all with different laws, making it a fertile ground for atypical employment to get a foothold (with union jurisdiction ending at each border)
  • In 2014:
    • 16 percent of pilots were engaged in atypical employment
    • 40 percent of LCC pilots were atypically employed
    • 39 percent  of pilots aged between 20 and 30 were atypically employed
    • 56 percent of pilots made no decision about their working hours (i.e. they had no discretion whether to extend their duty or not in the event of a disruption – they were told when they had to extend).

Overseas the atypical employment model is fast becoming the typical and, as a union, we know it’s our job to protect our members from this becoming the norm in New Zealand aviation.

The aviation industry is experiencing rapid change and we can’t ignore the impact that has on NZALPA staff and members.

At the symposium, Industrial Psychologist Mark Hamlin talked about change, and it really resonated with NZALPA and the work we are doing with the Air New Zealand High Performance Engagement Programme, where both parties have agreed to work collaboratively on solutions for the airline and the pilots.

Hamlin spoke about people’s various reactions to change, and the stages of acceptance. As leaders it’s our responsibility to understand change, accept it and make the process of acceptance as easy as possible for our members. I understand this can be more difficult for some than others, but being adaptable to change is an integral part of the industry in which we work.

I invite you to read Ghent University’s report Atypical Employment in Aviation to familiarise yourself with the challenges at hand for our international aviators. Of course, at NZALPA we welcome the challenge to negotiate and fight for the rights of pilots and ATCs on behalf of our members and, ultimately, for the safety of the travelling public.

For all those attending our Annual Conference this month, enjoy the learning and, no doubt, robust debate surrounding issues such as change, atypical employment, and the consequences of Open Skies agreements. There’s no time like the present to start being an active participant in these important discussions.

Have a great month.

Further reading: The Ghent University report and Civil Aviation in an Age of De-Regulation: Social Risks and Benefits by Darragh Golden and Anders Underthun

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