US congressman criticises Irish aviation’s ‘permissive’ labour model

Democrat Peter DeFazio opposed Irish-registered Norwegian Air’s bid for a US permit

Peter DeFazio has links to US aviation unions. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Peter DeFazio has links to US aviation unions. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

 

The chairman of a powerful US Congress transport committee singled out Ireland in a speech warning about airlines’ efforts to skirt labour laws.

Congressman Peter DeFazio, who opposed Irish-registered Norwegian Air International’s application for a US permit, wants lawmakers to scrutinise airlines that operate from jurisdictions with cheaper labour than their home countries.

“We see this model coming out of Europe, which is ‘Let’s go to a country with more permissive labour standards, ie, Ireland’ or ‘Let’s operate contract crews out of Asia’,” he told the Aero Club of Washington.

Mr DeFazio has links to US aviation unions and opposed Norwegian’s application to Washington’s department of transportation for a foreign carrier’s permit to allow it to fly to the US.

He now chairs the US House of Representatives transport and infrastructure committee, an influential body that oversees the department from which Norwegian sought the permit.

Flag of convenience

Opponents of the application claimed the Irish-registered subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle was a “flag of convenience”, meant to skirt labour protections and use crews hired through agencies based in Asia.

Norwegian denied this, and the US authorities granted the permit in December 2016 following three years of controversy.

Members of US unions such as the Air Line Pilots Association, Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants donated €800,000 to Mr DeFazio’s election campaigns through special committees in the years before 2016. Those unions also opposed Norwegian’s application.

Norwegian Air Shuttle is struggling in the face of rising costs and tough competition. The group is seeking €300 million from shareholders and huge savings from staff and operations.