Erosion of Labour Rights?

The dispute between the pilots of British Airways and their management is one of a number of challenges facing professional pilots in the European region as a result of aviation liberalisation. In 1997 the full introduction of the so-called "third package" de-regulated the internal aviation market. Since then airlines have been free to set up and offer services between any two airports in the European Union.

In 2002, the European Court of Justice determined that nationality clauses in international air traffic agreements were incompatible with the Treaty of Rome. This ruling precipitated the start of the completion of the external market, allowing any EU airline to exercise traffic rights negotiated by any EU country with a third country.

Soon, if it is not true already, there will be no such thing as British or German or Czech airlines - only EU airlines; all able to operate in competition with each other, merge with and takeover each others' operations. This gives us all a challenge. Whether you work for an airline, or any other industry which exploits the EU Single market, the changes potentially mean that we have been stripped of the protection assumed to be afforded by national employment legislation on the right to organise a trade union - and to do so in a European, trans-national context.

Article 3 of the International Labour Organisation Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948, states:

  1. Workers' and employers' organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.
  2. The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.

The dispute between British Airways (BA) pilots in BALPA and the BA management, along with the difficulties raised by airline cross border growth and mergers are witness to the degradation of the rights guaranteed by the ILO Convention; freely entered into and ratified by all of the EU Member States.

ECA has taken a strong lead in raising these issues, organising seminars and supporting the efforts of its Member Associations to overcome these challenges. But if the "public authorities" at national and European level wish to avoid a repeat of the conflict which won these labour rights the first time around, then ECA believes we have to work together with them to ensure that the freedom to associate is as effective in the European Single Market as it has been in individual Member States.