Norway's Ministry of Transport and Communications is preparing a report on the effects of commercial air transport globalisation and the "fragmentation" of airline structures within the European economic area and globally. This will include a study of "atypical employment practices" within the industry, according to State Secretary for Transport and Communications Tom Cato Karlsen.
Speaking at the Flight Operational Forum in Oslo, Norway, Karlsen says the "fragmentation" of organisations "presents problems for regulators". He did not specifically mention Norwegian Air, but the low-cost carrier has a record of pushing business practice boundaries in its search for tax and employment cost minimisation, which has been a debating point in Norway's parliament for some time now.
Karlsen says the government wants to see successful, innovative and competitive businesses based in Norway, benefitting the country and its consumers, but warns that "there is a line between those practices we can accept and those we should not". Cost-cutting is good, he told the Forum, but measures intended aggressively to avoid taxes are not. He adds that Norway does not want to see “brutal” employment practices institutionalised.
He says his department has written to the European Commission suggesting that Europe should not accept unusual business practices by default, simply because they do not breach existing laws. It should declare what is acceptable and legislate accordingly, because business practices that were not foreseen or intended by governments are now becoming common.
The common practice among EU-based low-cost carriers of setting up bases with locally hired employees all over the continent is not a problem in itself, he says, but depending on how it is executed it can create the "fragmentation" he refers to when it involves "atypical employment practices". These can include requiring pilots and cabin crew to be self-employed or to work for an agency that is contracted to the airline, and he says this can create "statelessness" among some employees. He quoted the recent University of Ghent study of atypical employment practices in Europe's airline industry, and says this has the potential to cause "undesirable consequences for safety" – although he admits that safety statistics do not, at present, point that way. Norway was one of the sponsors of the Ghent University study.
At the same time, Karlsen reveals, Norway is working to frame a legislative environment – by the second quarter of 2016 – in which a “just culture” protects those in the industry who report safety-related issues, and encourages dialogue between employers and employees about safety issues.