An Air Nostrum cabin crew member leaving the plane. Segio Espinosa
Flight attendants' expenses to be brought into line with those of pilots

Flight attendants' expenses to be brought into line with those of pilots

The EU's advocate general considers that paying less is discriminatory and contrary to law, although the final ruling is still pending

Lucía Palacios


Friday, 7 June 2024, 15:36

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Europe is preparing to give Spain another slap on the wrist for sex discrimination in the workplace. There have already been several warnings in this regard, many of them in the area of pensions. In this case, it is a disparity suffered by cabin crew (the vast majority of whom are women) compared to pilots (mostly men) for the expenses they receive during their travels. And, although the final ruling is still pending, the European Court of Justice is one step away from ruling that this economic gap is contrary to EU law.

At least that is the view of the advocate general of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in a response on Thursday to an appeal brought by the Stavla union of airline flight attendants against the airline Air Nostrum. Although its conclusions are not binding, but only recommendations, they usually coincide with the final judgment of the court that ensures that European rights are complied with in member states.

The union requested in November 2022 that the Spanish national court annul the provision of the collective agreement applicable to the cabin crew of the airline, regulating the amount of their daily expenses allowance (signed in 2019). They argued that this amount is lower than that provided for in the pilots' agreement (2010), which, in their view, constitutes indirect discrimination based on sex in working conditions, something prohibited by the directive on the application of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment between men and women in matters of employment and occupation. According to the union, this is because 94% of the cabin crew members are women, while 93.71% of the pilots are men.

National court doubts

The national court specifies that the amounts paid as daily expenses are not considered wages, neither under national law nor under EU law. Therefore, it believes that since these allowances do not remunerate specific work, the differing value of the work performed by pilots and cabin crew cannot justify inequality in the amount of these allowances, which are part of working conditions.

According to the national court, indirect discrimination based on sex would be "evident" if the different allowances had been established in the same collective agreement. However, it has "doubts" about this because the difference in treatment is due to the fact that the airline applies two different collective agreements negotiated with different union representatives. Therefore, it asked the CJEU whether the situation examined constitutes indirect discrimination based on sex.

Pay gap

The European advocate general believes that there is indirect discrimination and, among the arguments given, points out that expenses are part of working conditions, not wages.

Studies indicate that the gender pay gap in Spain, which is still very high at over 18%, is largely due to supplementary payment, the majority of which is received by male workers.

Furthermore, another issue that Europe must address is why flight attendants cannot retire early under the same conditions as pilots.

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