Letter to the Editor (The Irish Times) – 8th Aug 2016
Over the last six months Irish media has given considerable coverage and comment to Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) intent to fly transatlantic flights from Cork. Much of this comment has been ill informed and has, to a great extent, unquestioningly promoted the view of supporters of the proposed operation.
The actual basis of the objections to NAI’s proposal has received scant coverage and yet has caused the US Department of Transport to stall the approval of the NAI application.
As Norwegian Airlines, the parent company of NAI, already operates transatlantic flights under the existing EU-US agreement there must be a good reason that the application is currently stalled. Especially when Norwegian Airlines can easily operate from Cork to the US tomorrow under their previously agreed terms and conditions.
This raises the obvious question – why do they need an Irish Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC)?
Norwegian has put forward different reasons for seeking this Irish AOC but the actual answer lies in Irish law allowing ‘off-shoring’ of employment contracts that govern the employment relationship.
This means that by establishing an Irish subsidiary Airline Norwegian can use employment contracts governed by Asian law as the basis for engaging their flight and cabin crew.
Pilots and cabin crew on such contracts, may well be EU or US citizens, but would have no recourse to the protections provided in Irish, EU or US employment law. This alone is the reason that unions on both sides of the Atlantic object to NAI’s proposal.
The existing EU-US Open Skies agreement anticipated such ‘flag of convenience’ arrangements and has a provision to protect existing labour standards from such overt abuse. By any rational standard, a proposal to allow an Irish Airline to hire EU or US citizens as crew but govern them by Asian employment contracts, is a clear diminution of “existing labour standards”.
The impression has also been given that some of the objectors have questioned the safety standards of Norwegian (for example the interview with Mr Eamonn Brennan, CEO IAA, Irish Times Business Section 08 July 2016). This is not the case – the objection is purely on the undermining of EU-US labour standards that the Norwegian proposal represents.
A further impression has been given that the objections arise solely from the Flight Crew Unions in the US allied with a number of large US airlines. In fact the European Cockpit Association, many other European Crew and Transport Unions and the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association have all been equally strong in their objections to this proposal.
Regrettably, Ireland is perceived internationally as having low worker protection standards and having low levels of enforcement of the existing provisions. It is extraordinary that so many Irish agencies appear happy to promote the NAI proposal, while ignoring the potential damage it can do to the existing employment standards.
Most surprisingly, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has been an active supporter of NAI’s proposal, as in the Irish Times Article on 08 July 2016 Business Section, which strays a long way from its function as the aviation safety regulator. In doing this the IAA diminishes itself by promoting such dubious employment practices.
The journalists promoting these stories would be outraged if a competing news agency set up in Ireland and undercut their employment status by hiring in fellow journalists on Asian employment contracts; why is Norwegian Airlines any different?
Capt EVAN CULLEN,
Irish Air Line Pilots’Association,