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Labor market researcher on Primera ruling: You cannot just underpay pilots

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The ruling in the Primera case is a clear decision which cements that companies cannot underpay pilots who work on a Danish base, but do not have the same terms as their colleagues on a collective agreement, says labor market researcher Henning Jørgensen.

Last month, the Danish Labor Court ruled that a pilot employed as a contractor with a home base in Denmark is entitled to the same salary and terms of employment as his colleagues in the same company who are covered by a collective agreement.

“The labor court has ruled on payment and whether the person in question has received his or her rightful salary, and it is a clear decision,” says Henning Jørgensen, professor and labor market researcher at Aalborg University, who has read the judgment.

The ruling came after FPU had asked the Labor Court to decide whether the airline Primera should have given the same terms and conditions to the pilots it had hired via a subsidiary on Guernsey as the pilots covered by a collective work agreement in Denmark.

“You can see that you cannot just underpay pilots. It is positive that it is stated that pilots must have a contractual salary and not be underpaid. You cannot undermine the collective agreement in this way here in Denmark. It is important to get that out in the open,” says Henning Jørgensen.

Positive that contractor setup is not possible

When the Icelandic airline Primera still operated, about half of its pilots were employed as so-called “self-employed contractors” via a subsidiary on Guernsey. They worked from a Danish base but did not receive a pension or holiday leave and were not paid if they had more than 10 sick days per year. This contrasted with the colleagues on the same base who were employed directly by the company and who were covered by the collective agreement which FPU had with the company.

“It is positive that companies cannot make this setup in the future. You cannot dump wages in this way, and that is important,” says Henning Jørgensen.

However, he expects that airlines will continue to try to be creative and come up with new company setups.

“As long as the passengers do not react and just want cheap airline seats, there will be a market for social dumping. I expect the airlines will try to be very creative in the future because it is currently a struggle for existence for them. Before the normal level of flights returns, there will be a battle between the individual companies to gain a share in the low turnover. The airlines believe that crew is the cost that they can act on the fastest and the easiest. They will try to push hard.”

Social dumping must be tackled under the auspices of the EU

From 2003-2006, Henning Jørgensen was director of the trade union movement’s research analysis institute, ETUI, in Brussels, where cases of social dumping were discussed, and even back then he believed that many cases of social dumping would occur if a solution on an EU level wasn’t found.

To address the issue of social dumping in aviation, he believes that a special body with an understanding of the labor market needs to be set up in the EU.

“In the EU, we should have a common system that could take care of such cases where judges knowledgeable about the labor market make decisions. The European Court of Justice, for example, does not know much about the labor market. If we could set up a similar labor law system it would be really conducive, but we do not have it yet. “

FPU welcomes the ruling

Last week, FPU’s president, Thilde Waast, told Danish trade union magazine www.luftfart.nu that she welcomed the ruling which has helped to ensure a form of justice for those of FPU’s members who were employed as contractors in Primera. At the same time, the ruling is a signal to the airlines that this contractor setup is illegal.

She explains that the FPU has experienced great interest in the ruling at European level. Among other things, FPU’s branch in Romania, FPU Romania, has received many inquiries from Eastern European flight crew and lawyers who want to know more about the ruling.

“We can see that there has been paid a lot of attention to the ruling, and the interest shows how important it is to follow through on these cases with the companies. In FPU, we do everything we can to fight social dumping. This ruling is an important part of this fight which we will continue so we can ensure proper conditions for our members and so that we can put an end to social dumping in European aviation,” says Thilde Waast.