International Transport

Workers' rights

High competition and price pressure in the international transport industry have a direct impact on working conditions. Long working hours, low wages, and tight schedules leading to inadequate rest time are common.

In the aviation industry, there have been reports of very low wages for cabin personnel, as well as pilots working with international (budget) airlines. Some crew members do not receive fixed monthly wages but are paid by the hour. Depending on possible working volume or season, they may not even reach minimum wages.

Some pilots or cabin crew are contracted under the laws of the country where the airline’s headquarters are located and not where staff reside (see Ryanair case below). In some cases, this leads to the violation of national labour laws as payments may fall below national minimum wages and inadequate access to social security or pension systems is provided.

Ground staff, such as airport kitchen workers, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, or cleaning personnel are often also affected by low wages. In many cases, their contracts are subcontracted to specialized agencies, with the employer handing over the direct responsibility for their working conditions to the subcontractor. Furthermore, ground personnel are often not included in union action and agreements.

Low wages are also common for bus drivers of long-distance bus companies. Due to tight schedules, companies often do not respect legally required resting time for bus drivers. Overworking and an inadequate number of rest days or time off for driving personnel may have direct impacts on the safety of staff and customers.

Ryanair strikes
Airport strike: Tunisia
Distant buses: Germany
Ryanair cabin crew members fired after unionising
Ryanair strikes

Strike and working conditions at Ryanair

Unions accused Ryanair of breaching labour laws after the crews went on strike in 2018. Pilots and cabin crews in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Portugal stopped working at various times during 2018. Ryanair staff were contracted under Irish law, where the company has its headquarters, and not where staff reside. In some cases, this practice negatively affected staff’s ability to access social security benefits or provided lower pensions than set out in national labour laws. Adaptions have been pushed forward in some countries. The strikes built on previous strikes and unresolved issues from 2017.

Airport strike: Tunisia

Tunis airport strike was called off at last minute

In summer 2018, Tunisian airport workers threatened to strike for two days in the tourist high season. The labour union representing many airport staff called upon the government to enhance working conditions for airport staff. After a deal was reached with the government, the strike was called off.

Distant buses: Germany

Coach driver working conditions

Coach drivers are heavily impacted by the low prices, tight schedules, and highly competitive business of long-distance bus travel. Drivers have high responsibilities for their customers, their coaches and material, but are often forced to work overtime and for long periods without adequate breaks. After their shifts, they are sometimes required to clean the coach, including bathrooms, without being paid extra or the work being included in their working hours. 

Ryanair cabin crew members fired after unionising

Ryanair cabin crew members fired after unionising

Cabin crew union B.United was recently registered in the Czech Republic, representing direct Ryanair employees and agency workers. Only a day after they notified the company of the existence of the new union and requested a meeting to discuss working conditions, three union leaders were fired.

Taking action 300x190

Take action

Policy and process

Supplier assessment

  • Conduct audit on working conditions at airlines and bus companies (business partners).

Grievance mechanism

  • Encourage business partners to install or promote hotlines / contact points where violations of labour laws of driving personnel (such as inadequate rest days or breaks) can be reported.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.