Self-employment in Europe under scrutiny

EU legislation does not clearly define the nature and scope of a self-employed worker. Some airlines use this blurred area to transform the status of the employee into a bogus self-employment type of contract, externalising most of the employer charges and depriving the pilot from his/her labour and social protection rights. A recent UK Court decision highlights these loopholes once again.

The nature of the employment contract of pilots is evolving very quickly. Whereas the vast majority of pilots used to be directly employed by an airline, currently there is a growing trend to externalise this labour force. Often when pilots are hired as workers without a direct employment relationship with an airline, they are much more prone to exploitation, limited social, representation and bargaining rights, and lack job security.

The legislation governing the status of self-employed workers in Europe varies from country to country and very few of them actively prevent companies from scorning the status of an employee. These discrepancies between EU Member States not only obstruct a level playing field for airlines in Europe but they also put pressure on airline employees. Nevertheless, the nature of this (bogus) employment relationship has rarely been challenged. Recently, a decision by the UK court has ruled against the practice of an employment agency supplying pilots to Ryanair to impose a €5,000 penalty on pilots for failing to fulfil a three-month notice period before terminating their contracts. The judge described the employment arrangement of these pilots as "not straightforward".

Crucial to challenging the employment relationship is defining who is an employee and who is a self-employed person. And this also does not have a “straightforward” answer across the EU. Chances are, even after spending a considerable amount of money on legal advice, pilots will not be able to determine under which category they fall. Even worse, their contractual agreements with the client airline might not be in compliance with the legislation of the country they are based in. Recently, the Ryanair Pilot Group reported about an official report by the Norwegian Aviation Authority, which describes Ryanair pilot contracts as non-compliant with national legal requirements. 

ECA is taking steps to ensure every pilot in Europe has the right to be considered as an employee and not be forced to bear the weight and consequences of being in an uncertain and contradictory legal framework.