New industrial action legislation for civil aviation

On 29 February 2012, the French parliament adopted a law to mitigate the effects of strikes in the civil aviation industry. The law, approved on 15 March by the Constitutional Council, encourages airlines and other companies to negotiate agreements, including measures to force some employees to give notice of their intention to take industrial action. The move is mainly intended to deal with employees whose absence is likely to directly affect the operation of flights.

Background

A number of disputes affected the civil aviation industry in 2011, including a dispute involving airport security officers in December. The government replaced striking workers with police officers, drawing heavy criticism from trade unions. Following this, National Assembly member Éric Diard proposed the introduction of legislation similar to that within the land passenger transport sector (Law no. 2007-1224 of 21 August 2007 on social dialogue and the continuity of public services within scheduled passenger land transport (in French, 143Kb PDF)). The Ministry of Transport has reported that there have been 1,131 disputes in the civil aviation sector in the last three years, representing 176 days of disruption, 63 of them in 2011. The new law, which was supported by the government, applies to airlines and to companies whose activity is related to air travel, such as airport operators, airport security and aircraft maintenance.

A framework for negotiation

The new law makes it possible for both employers and unions to introduce measures, through talks, that regulate the right to strike. These measures must create a framework that establishes a procedure for negotiations to resolve conflict. Industrial action will not be permitted until negotiations have taken place.

The framework establishes:

  • the conditions under which a union representative must give formal notification of the reasons why industrial action is being considered;
  • that representatives of the employer and employees must meet within three days of such notification;
  • that negotiations may last for a maximum of eight days after notification of strike action before industrial action begins;
  • the information that must be given by the employer to help successful negotiations, and the period within which this information must be provided;
  • the conditions under which the negotiations must take place before industrial action begins;
  • the information that must be included in a formal statement of the outcome of negotiations;
  • the conditions under which employees are informed of the reasons for the dispute, and the respective positions of employer and unions.

Notice of intent to take industrial action

In the event of a strike, and for its duration, employees whose absence is likely to affect flights (such as crew members) must inform their employer of their intention to join the strike at least 48 hours in advance. Anyone failing to do this will be subject to disciplinary action. Employees must also inform employers at least 24 hours in advance if they have stated their intention to go on strike and then decide to work normally, or if they want to return to work after being on strike.

Mediation

To promote the amicable settlement of a dispute, the parties can agree to involve a mediator, jointly appointed at the onset of industrial action. After eight days of strike action, the employer, union representative or mediator may consult the workforce about its continued support. This consultation does not affect the individual right to strike.

Law declared constitutional

The Constitutional Council ruled, on 15 March, that the new law was consistent with the Constitution (Decision no. 2012-650 DC 15 March 2012 (in French)), particularly the provisions requiring a prior declaration of industrial action. The council declared that these changes to the general right to strike are proportionate to the need for ‘the preservation of public order, which is a constitutional objective’. The requirement of notification prior to any industrial action was not a burden on all employees, but only on those ‘whose absence is likely to directly affect the operation of flights’.

Union reaction

The unions are opposed to the new law and are taking a variety of actions to prevent its adoption.

The National Union of Airline Pilots (SNPL), said: ‘The demagogic arguments and electioneering have, unfortunately, prevailed in the debate leading inevitably to the adoption of the law.’

Commentary

The new law on distribution of profits (FR1105011I), which requires larger companies to share some of their profits with workers, is already causing problems between employers and workers in the civil aviation industry.

The timing of the sector’s new industrial action legislation may make it difficult for managements to negotiate the new right-to-strike framework with the trade unions. The law comes into effect in autumn 2012, at a time when the new management at Air France hopes to renegotiate all its collective agreements and the unions will be mobilised to defend the interests of employees. Discussions between the SNPL and Air France concluded that while the legislation was before parliament, the parties would not apply its provisions.

Frédéric Turlan, IRshare

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