Social Dialogue & The Role of the State in Aviation During COVID
In order to make recommendations for the relaunch of aviation post-pandemic, researchers conducted a comparative study of the impact of COVID-19, and how Industrial Relations (IR) responded, in Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain. The full results are documented in this report, available on the VIRAL website. (The full report includes detailed descriptions of each country studied.)
While responses to COVID 19 varied widely across the EU member states, in all cases the role of the state was strengthened. Regarding air transport, actors benefited from the general measures aimed to support employment and business during the pandemic. With limited exceptions (like Denmark), there were no aviation-specific rescue packages. However, states (with the exception of Ireland and Poland) did intervene, through existing mechanisms, to provide financial support to airports and legacy airlines which began to haemorrhage cash during the lockdown (to cite one dramatic example: at one point Lufthansa was losing 1 million euros every hour.) Support took different forms, including loans and capital injections, and sometimes included specific conditions.
Despite the massive state intervention in the economy, states, vis-à-vis aviation, were reluctant to use their power to strategically reposition the role of social dialogue in the sector. Instead, social dialogue largely became the instrument by which workers, in a short period of time, conceded much, to support the sector. This response, while perhaps helpful to airlines and airports in the short-term, would place European aviation in a difficult position once the quicker-than-anticipated recovery of passenger volumes began. Lack of personnel led to significant disruptions, beginning in 2022, in most major European hubs. (One notable exception is Italy, which appears to have fared better in the face of the recovery, because of an economy-wide ban on layoffs during the worst part of Covid, social dialogue and government intervention to shore up sector-specific wage and employment supports to prevent an exodus of workers from the sector.)