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Irish airline Flag of Convenience row

Friday, July 11 11:41:54

Shipping has Liberia and Panama and now air travel has the Irish tricolour as a "flag of convenience" that will drag down aviation standards and stifle competition.

That's according to a joint declaration signed today by a group directly representing both employers and workers in the airline industry that warns against the rise of this new development.

It said that airlines using Flags of Convenience (FoC) undercut fair competition in the sector, avoid many regulations and scour the globe to exploit labour without European social rights and standards.

At a press conference in Brussels today, the EU Social Dialogue Committee for Civil Aviation presented a joint declaration warning that Flags of Convenience will lead European aviation to the fate of the decimated European maritime industry with almost no European crew left.

The statement comes as Norwegian Air International recently moved its international headquarters to Ireland. It also operates under an Irish flight certificate - even though it doesn't serve any Irish markets.

Some of its pilots and crew are officially employed by a Singaporean company and are based in Thailand. The company's flight attendants come from the United States and Asia.

It plans to operate no-frills flights from the UK to the US but airlines, airline staff organisations and US politicians have all opposed the move.

According to the EU Social Dialogue Committee for Civil Aviation today, a precedent now risks being set as one non-EU airline uses an Irish registration, despite having no Irish base, to fly within Europe and to the US, with Thailand based crews on a variety of Far Eastern contracts.

"The inconvenient truth is that such companies are not creating new 'business models' in the market. Rather, they are exploiting regulatory loopholes and insufficiently coordinated legislation behind a distraction of publicity over a few cheap flights," said Jon Horne, Vice-Chair of the Social Dialogue Committee.

"They blatantly undermine the international rules and agreements designed to ensure fair competition and employment standards. If FoCs, what is in fact an 'exploitation model,' are not stopped now it will force currently responsible airlines into a race to the bottom and aviation jobs exit Europe for good."

"An airline using infrastructure, healthcare and education in Europe whilst not contributing to European social systems commits social dumping, and is parasitic on the responsible European citizens and businesses who effectively subsidise them," said Francois Ballestero, Political Secretary for Civil Aviation at the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF).

"It is vital for our industry to remain competitive. But competition can only work if it is on a level playing field, with clear and simple rules applied to all," said Emmanuel Jahan, Chair of the Social Dialogue Committee. "The European Commission has the power to decisively stop abuse and mockery of European legislation; we hope steps will be taken to guarantee the competitiveness of the European industry and the preservation of European jobs."

The Social Partners called on the EU Commission and newly elected Members of the Parliament to take urgent measures against "Flags of Convenience".

Among the proposed changes are revision of legislation on visas and work permits for non-EU based crews, as well as clarity on "principal place of business for airlines".

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