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Employers’ conditions in the shipping and aviation sectors provokes hot debate in the Nordic Council
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Employers’ conditions in the shipping and aviation sectors provokes hot debate in the Nordic Council

| Text: Björn Lindahl, photo Johannes Jansson/norden.org

The Nordic Council is encouraging governments to work actively against social dumping in the shipping sector. But the Council does not want to initiate any coordination of Nordic aviation policies within the EU. These were the results after a hot debate in the labour market committee during the session in Oslo.

Several of the speakers reacted strongly against the apparent support given by the Nordic Council to seamen but not to pilots in their fight for better working conditions. The proposal to fight social dumping in the shipping sector was passed with 53 votes (14 abstained). The proposal to coordinate aviation policies was voted down however, with 38 to 27 votes (one abstained). 

“I see a clear link between the shipping debate, where the conservatives want to abstain, and the aviation debate where they want to stop an inquiry,” said Martin Kolberg form the Norwegian Labour Party.

“Can you explain what it really is that you are against, and stop using bogus arguments?”

Wages affect safety

Nils Aage Jegsted from the Norwegian Conservative Party is the labour market committee chair. He was equally upset over the fact that the question had been put in that way: 

“What this is about is that we time and again have treated this issue in the committee. At some stage we have to say enough is enough,” he said.

According to him, nothing shows a link between wage levels and aviation safety. Low-cost airlines have the same high safety levels as other airlines. 

“The only foreign language you need in order to fly with Norwegian Air Shuttle is Swedish. There is competition within aviation, but it is not social dumbing when Norwegian flies from Alicante to other European destinations. For that you would have to pay Spanish and not Norwegian wages,” said Nils Aage Jegsted.

It is the Nordic Council’s commission on growth and development that considers whether social dumping affects aviation safety. It has invited airlines and authorities to explain whether working conditions affects aviation safety.

The Swedish Transport Agency pointed to certain problems linked to “the new business models”:

  • Insufficient control over subcontractors.
  • Rapid change leads to reduced ability to discover risks in a company.
  • Cost pressures create possible shortcomings in aviation safety culture within airlines.

But the Swedish Transport Agency also pointed out that no direct correlation had been found between working conditions and aviation safety. There are different air traffic control systems that carry out controls and routines that minimise such risks. 

Different competition conditions

SAS considered that this was dangerous territory and that it could lead to incidents in the future. The airline also reacted to the fact that Middle Eastern countries subsidise their airlines. Norwegian expressed disappointment that there is an agreement between Scandinavian countries and Russia from 1956, which allows only one Scandinavian carrier to fly east-bound through Russian airspace (the Siberian Corridor). SAS has that right today. This is an issue they would like the Nordic Council to address in talks with governments. 

After listening to the parties on this issue, the Conservative Group, the Centre Group and the Nordic Freedom Group declared during the committee’s meeting on 24 January 2018 that there was no desire to take the issue further. The other party groups dissented. 

There is also friction between the Nordic countries and between different companies when it comes to shipping. In its recent budget, the Norwegian government proposed to allow the ferry company Color Line to register in the international Norwegian maritime registry NIS. This was established to allow all Norwegian vessels to employ foreign labour while sailing between foreign harbours. The government now wants to allow ferry companies to have the same opportunity.

Norwegian politics impacting Danish seamen

For Color Line’s 700 employees, this represents a risk of being replaced by cheaper labour. The trade union at the Danish shipping company DFDS has also protested that competition would become unfair if this happened. 1,000 Danish ferry company jobs are also at risk, since Danish shipping companies in that case could register in Norwegian NIS. 

The Danish Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs, Rasmus Jarlov, answered a question in parliament by saying it would be unfortunate to see a race to the bottom which would weaken salary and tax conditions for the employees, and create unfair competition. 

He was at the same time happy that the Norwegian proposal had been changed to only apply to ferry traffic covering more than 300 nautical miles, rather than 175 nautical miles. That means ferry traffic between Denmark and Norway is not included.

No definition

The disagreement between Nordic parliamentarians on this issue was not about being for or against social dumping. But according to Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby from the Swedish Moderates, there is no common Nordic definition of what social dumping actually is:

“I refuse to accept the insinuations that we have a political agenda when it comes to social dumping. Of course we are against it.

“We do feel that the proposal has got the wrong end of the stick. We wouldn’t mind taking part in the continuing discussion on this issue, but we feel that we need to start by agreeing on common rules plus the definition which the proposal is built on.

“I feel it is unfortunate that you chose to make a point in this way and to not participate in the work which we have recommended needs to be done if we want to identify how to fight social dumping,” said Johan Andersson from the Swedish Social Democratic Party.

Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby

was born in Norway, but moved to Borås in Sweden in 1996 where she became political active. After changing citizenship, she was elected to represent the Moderates in parliament. AT the Nordic Council meeting in Oslo, she reacted negatively to how the conservative party group was accused of being too positive to social dumping:

“Of course we are against it,” she said (above).

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