Monday, July 18, 2011

Air Carriers Threatened By Union Intervention

Oneworld Alliance Receives Notice They Are Viewed as One Employer
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – Air freight and passenger services have seen major disruptions to services in the past few years caused by bad feelings between the management and staff over terms and conditions of employment and such perks as free or reduced rates when travelling. The situation has been exacerbated of late where carriers have joined to form alliances with differing employment conditions applicable to their individual employees, despite similar routes and services.

Now a new body representing workers in the Oneworld alliance of airlines has made an offer on problem-solving and labour negotiations for what it terms a ‘constructive partnership’ between trade unions and management. The One World of Labour Council, formed in April by unions affiliated to the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and with members working across the alliance has made the offer in a letter to the CEO’s of each of Oneworld’s 12 member airlines.

The letter, signed by the Council’s coordinator, John M Conley, says:

“I am writing to you to introduce the One World of Labour Council, a global group that comprises trade unions representing workers across the Oneworld alliance member airlines.

“The Oneworld airlines are operating increasingly as if they have a de facto merger, and this alliance on the part of our employers has caused us to forge even closer working relationships. The One World of Labour Council was established within the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a Global Union Federation of 780 transport trade unions which collectively represent over 4.6 million workers worldwide, to strengthen collaboration, information sharing, joint planning and actions on issues of common concern to our members.

“The Labour Council met recently in Madrid, where its members reaffirmed their commitment to acting in unity and becoming an effective counterpart to the employers in the Oneworld alliance.

“We see ourselves as your partners in building a world class Oneworld alliance that maintains high standards with regard to safety, customer care and employment conditions, and that strengthens its position through quality service and professionalism rather than by pursuing a futile and destructive strategy of labour cost competition.

“At present, industrial relations are clearly strained in a number of airlines within the Oneworld group and our unions have pledged to support each other during these challenging times. Nevertheless, we wish to express our commitment to problem-solving and negotiating in good faith with those among our management counterparts who are wiling to do the same. To this end, the Labour Council would like to invite you and your fellow leaders within Oneworld to open channels of communication with us as soon as possible, both at the national and global levels.”

The individual airlines are likely to view this communiqué differently but many will no doubt view this as a threat to their ability to negotiate terms with their own employees as they view the collective arrangements these alliances provide as simply a method of introducing economies of scale and improved service coverage, certainly not a way to realign working practices which may well end with a union demand for the highest common denominators.

Given the disparate nature of the airlines involved, the carriers will argue that an alliance of this type is a straightforward commercial agreement covering a part of their collective business, a marriage of convenience, not a deep seated and irrevocable amalgamation, nor a ‘de facto merger’ which should be reflected in changed terms of contract for the likes of cabin crew, pilots, ground staff, baggage and cargo handlers.