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Friday 28 October 2016

US politician wades into Cork to Boston flight row

Tomás Heneghan

Published 03/08/2016 | 14:00

Norwegian Air is seeking a permit to fly between Cork and America.
Norwegian Air is seeking a permit to fly between Cork and America.

A US congressman has become embroiled in a row over a proposed plan for flights between Cork and Boston.

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The Democratic Party congressman, Peter DeFazio has written to the EU Transport Commissioner, Violeta Bulc, to voice his concerns over the proposed new transatlantic route.

The politician’s concerns relate to the operator of the proposed service, Norwegian Air International, as he believes the company are taking advantage of Singaporean employment law.

He wrote: “These outsourced crews are hired on contracts governed by Singapore law. In fact, although most, if not all of Norwegian’s pilots live in Europe, in order to join Norwegian’s workforce, they must contract with a ‘crew leasing specialist’ in Singapore and abide by terms governed under Singapore law.

“If Norwegian were a US carrier, there practices would not be acceptable under US airline labor laws, and I am confident they are not acceptable under the laws of Norway. They certainly are not consistent with the fair labor principles of the European Union.”

Mr DeFazio also said he did not wish to undermine the authority of the Irish Aviation Authority, however to “sanction airlines' exploitation of flags of convenience is to push the global airline industry down a slippery slope”.

He wrote: “As European legacy carriers face increasingly challenging market conditions, what will be the next Norwegian, and what flag of convenience will appear on the sides of its aircraft? I do not believe that anyone, on either side of the Atlantic, can assure the flying public with confidence that this race to the bottom will end well.”

Norwegian Air International had announced in September it would launch a new route from Cork to Boston, however the project has faced a number of setbacks since then.

US authorities have refused to sign off on the route and the EU is set to hold arbitration on the matter.

On Wednesday morning objections to the proposed route were also raised by the president of the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA), Captain Evan Cullen.

Mr Cullen told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “At the moment we have members of the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) who are Irish, they live in Europe but they’re employed on Chinese contracts.

“When they have a problem with their employer, their remedy is in China. It is not in the EU or the US, or in Dublin – it is in China.

“Equally we cannot stomach a situation whereby people are employed on contracts whose jurisdiction is in Thailand when they are working in between Cork and Boston.

He said he anyone arguing that the process should be allowed to go ahead should consider a situation in which the positons might be reversed.

He asked: “How would the people of Cork feel if a factory was established, a major employer factory was established in Cork and all of the employees were on Asian contracts of employment, where the minimum wage is not set by the Irish government or the EU, it is set by the government of Thailand or the government of Singapore, where unfair dismissal is set by the labour relations in Thailand and Singapore? How would they feel if that was introduced into their local economy and that cost space, would they think that’s fair?”

Norwegian Air International issued a clarification, denying the claims being made regarding the proposed new route.

The airline said it does not have any Asian-based crew members or pilots and that any crew members, including those who may work on the proposed Cork to Boston route, will be employed under the labour laws of the country they are based in.

The Irish Aviation Authority also refuted the claims, saying Norwegian Air International was not operating under a flag of convenience and that its staff would be subject to the highest standards of labour.

The group also said the US congressman’s correspondence to the EU Transport Commissioner was filled with well-worn and false arguments.

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