Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion in what’s often referred to as the “gig economy” – rather than working for a company as an ’employee’, an increasing number of workers hire out their services as self-employed contractors. A really good example of the gig economy in action is ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft, and now Amazon does the same thing with delivery drivers.
What Uber and other gig economy companies say is that by using ‘self-employed’ contractors they’re offering flexibility – drivers have the power to control when and how long they work for, they can balance their family life and take on other projects or jobs as they see fit.
Critics have a very different take on the gig economy – pointing out that self-employed contractors don’t enjoy the same benefits as traditionally employed workers. Businesses don’t have to offer paid time off, holidays, pensions, medical coverage – nor do they have to offer guaranteed minimum pay and workers can be laid off at a moments notice.
While Uber and Amazon paint a picture of workers choosing to work in the gig economy, the reality is that many are forced to take on self-employed status whether they like it or not.
And now it seems, flight attendants could next be in line to be forced to join the gig economy – at least in Poland where cabin crew at the country’s flag carrier, LOT Polish Airlines have been on strike over the airline’s decision to make cabin crew and other workers ‘self-employed’.
On Friday, LOT was forced to cancel at least 19 flights after workers staged what the airline called an “illegal strike action” over its decision to fundamentally change the employment contracts of cabin crew. Similar numbers of cancellations have occurred on other days of what turned into a nine-day strike.
Risking inflaming the situation even further, LOT decided to sack around 67 staff who they said were orchestrating the “illegal” walkouts. By Saturday, however, the airline had reinstated the workers in an attempt to defuse the increasingly fraught situation. Representatives from the union and airline will meet this afternoon to discuss what happens next.
The ZZPPiL union says LOT’s decision would break Poland’s employment laws but Ryanair is also trying to force its cabin crew in the country to sign self-employment contracts – a move that cabin crew are currently resisting. An official from the CWR union which represents Ryanair cabin crew explained his concerns:
“All the rights embedded into your labor contract are liquidated.” Interestingly, under Polish law, the union won’t even be allowed to represent self-employed workers if Ryanair’s cabin crew sign the new contracts.
But here’s the thing – could we ever consider cabin crew to be self-employed? After all, doesn’t being self-employed give some flexibility over when you work? Whereas airline employees have to follow strict rosters and cabin crew must comply with even stricter “flight time limitations” – effectively limiting their ability to work another job.
So, for all intents and purposes, flight attendants ARE employees – airlines appear to be wanting to have their cake and eat it.