That’s great, to be able to bring not just your expertise but also the cohesiveness of the group to analyse a new problem. And as you put it to “the ultimate multinational” that can move both labour and capital. So what’s your role within the project?
I’m one of the country correspondents, so to speak, and doing my country reports. But together with Michael [Whittal], we did Work Package 3, which is looking into how aviation was before covid-19, what was the industrial relations system, how was it affected by legislation and EU directives and so forth? So our job, in particular, regarding this was to write together the seven reports from the seven countries involved into one report that had a look at how aviation was developing, looking into the similarities and differences between the countries as well.
I’m curious, from a comparative perspective, what are some things that stand out for you? Was there something that confirmed what you thought going into it, and what are some things that surprised you?
Well, “convergence” was most prevalent when you work with international companies, and they work across borders, they basically adopt each other’s business models. But with aviation this possibility is emphasised by the fact that you really don’t belong to any country. You don’t have to live up to any specific, industrial relations system, because if you don’t like it in one country, you just move to another country.
So it’s actually the dream of any multinational company. Here you actually are independent of the national structure. Even when it comes to infrastructure, you can actually choose between different airports. You can take the cheapest airport, and that’s actually what the low cost carriers use to get prices down. They say: “we’re not gonna take this airport, we’re going to take another airport, unless you get your prices down.”
When it comes to labour, you can just take the case of Ryanair: Ryanair doesn’t have a collective agreement in Denmark. They just made one recently, through Malta Air, in one of the airports. But for many years they hadn’t had a collective agreement in Denmark. But nevertheless, they are the third biggest company operating from Copenhagen. How come? Well they move in the labour from Lithuania and from Poland at 5:30 in the morning and at 7:30 you and I, and other people, are taking a plane from Copenhagen to all other destinations in Europe. And by doing that Ryanair has 38 takeoffs and landings in Copenhagen every day, without having a collective agreement in Denmark, without having any labour positioned in Denmark, actually. So they basically move in the labour and the means of production, within one-and-a-half hours, and then operate from that country.
While these companies, as you put it, are independent of any one nation-state, there is still a degree to which the regulatory, legislative and maybe IR frameworks in individual countries represent constraints under which these airlines are operating. It’s not that the rules don’t matter, right?
They do matter, but you can choose, when it comes to to wages or working conditions, you can just say: I’m gooing to adhere to that system, in Ireland or other places, and you can even see the legacy airlines, like SAS, which is normally based in Scandinavia, now have companies positioned in Ireland because they have to compete with the low cost carriers, right? So we have a situation that, of course, puts pressure on the Danish workers, the Danish cabin crew and the Danish pilots, because how are they going to compete with the wages they get in Ireland, because we have different living conditions as well.
So that’s what I mean about convergence, you have a business model that seems to work well and then even though the legacy airlines don’t want to live up to this business model, they don’t want to have this business model, they simply have to find ways to to save money, and legacy airlines, like SAS in Scandinavia, they are losing big money, every quarter now, they have 13 quarters in a row where they have lost money. So this is big money, we’re talking about 160 million euros every three months, they lose. So it’s really big money and it’s very difficult to see how they can survive in the long run. But they try by adopting the business model of low cost carriers. But what do we do, when the personnel are living in Denmark, and we have the living conditions we have in Denmark, it’s not cheap to live in Denmark, especially around the cities.