World’s aviation unions unveil plan to end travel chaos

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Photo: International Transport Workers’ Federation


The world’s aviation unions have endorsed a framework designed to stop travel chaos becoming a permanent feature of the aviation industry, amid warning that the industry is on course for a prolonged period of recurring crises.

The endorsement comes as new polling of over 3,500 aviation workers across 86 countries found that 89% believe the quality of jobs in the aviation industry are on the decline, while only 23% said they felt respected by their employer. Furthermore, only 21% said that their government is doing a good job managing the aviation industry.

The major pillars of the framework, titled the ‘New Deal for Aviation’, will be delivered to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Assembly later this month, urging for the immediate creation of national aviation bodies to address an industry that has “become environmentally, economically, and socially unsustainable.”

Coordinated by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and endorsed by over 250 affiliated unions, representing over 1 million aviation workers, new aviation bodies would bring together governments, employers, unions and the public to create country specific national aviation plans.

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These aviation plans will allow transport departments, aviation authorities, employers and unions to address the structural causes of this crisis, with a focus on the significant impact that decades of deregulation and fragmentation has had on the aviation industry’s resilience.

This action from unions comes as the aviation industry reaches breaking point. A result of years of deregulation, privatisation, and the erosion of employee working conditions, leading to worker shortages and widespread travel disruption.

In a majority of the world’s largest aviation markets, passengers now face thousands of flight cancellations, delays, capacity reductions and even flight capping at some of the world’s largest airports.

“Decades of decline in workers’ wages and working conditions have led the aviation industry to the edge of perpetual chaos,” Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the ITF, commented.

“Without a coordinated response that addresses both immediate and longer-term worker shortages, alongside structural transformation, aviation will continue to move from crisis to crisis. Governments have lost control of aviation in their territories, and urgently need to get it back.”

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Unveiled at the ITF’s Civil Aviation Conference in Montreal, Canada, the New Deal for Aviation also seeks to mandate action from the industry on decarbonisation, digitalisation, and sustainable funding. This includes commitment to “genuine carbon neutral growth” beyond 2019 traffic levels, and eliminating violence against aviation workers by implementing key ILO conventions into domestic law.

“We need to restore the checks and balances of global aviation,” Edgardo Llano, chair of the ITF Civil Aviation Section and general secretary of Argentine union Asociación del Personal Aeronáutico (APA), said.

“In what was once a nationalised industry in countries around the world, the scale has moved too far towards serving the interests of CEOs and shareholders above those of workers and passengers.”

“The ‘New Deal’ has the potential to move the scale back, and ensure that both employees and travellers get the treatment they deserve.”

ITF polling also found that only 11% of aviation workers believe that their employers act in their interest, while 89% believe that they act purely in the interests of the company’s shareholders.

A recent industry report found that during the Covid-19 pandemic, 15 of the world’s largest airlines eroded working conditions for hundreds of thousands of aviation workers, including aggressive anti-union tactics and ‘fire and rehire’ policies.

“Aviation needs to be recognised and treated as both a public good and global economic gateway. By coordinating on national aviation plans, employers, unions, and governments, will protect aviation in the short term, while building an industry that is fit for purpose, resilient to future crises, that serves in workers’ and the public’s interest,” Cotton concluded.