Guide: Engaging Aviation Workers and Trade Unions

18 Jan, 2022

Increasing jobs is one of the main industry arguments for airport expansion and aviation growth. Having a good answer, making the case for worker’s rights, and building solidarity will be key for the success of any campaign.

Safe Landing contributed to this short guide produced by Stay Grounded, Green European Foundation and Green House Think Tank, which explores how environmental campaigns can better connect with aviation workers and the trade unions that represent them – to build mutual support, win those campaigns and advance a rapid and just transition for workers in the sector.

Aviation, unlike some other high-carbon sectors, is still expanding. Yet the Covid-19 pandemic saw at least 400,000 jobs lost or in jeopardy at airlines alone. This makes the very notion of any further transition, never mind a ‘just transition’ – the safeguarding of workers’ livelihoods as the sector faces up to the climate crisis – contentious. With airports presented as anchors of local employment, often amid a sea of fragility, a threat to an airport is considered a threat to an area’s future prosperity (particularly where there is municipal ownership and investment in an airport). As a result, workers and activists have found themselves on opposite sides of the argument on aviation and the climate. Neither benefit from this estrangement.

However, collaboration can highlight the real divide: between corporate leaders chasing short-term returns at the expense of long-term stability, and workers & activists who are fighting for a secure future and a liveable planet.

A just transition needs workers and trade unions as its agents for change. It needs their expertise, their skills and their democratic engagement.

Building trust and close relationships with unions and workers will take time and energy. The concept of a just transition for the sector has not yet been popularised – no airline, airport, government or trade union has published a plan for one, and even in sectors much further down that road, like oil and gas, there is evidence that few workers have even heard of the term.



  1. Understand unions and workers: Building trust will take time and energy. Engagement should be positive and creative, but at the right levels and with realistic objectives. 
  2. Lead on jobs: Unemployment is not an option. Campaigns should promote an alternative economic vision that prioritises job security and quality. 
  3. Focus on future threats: The pandemic revealed the stark vulnerability of the aviation sector and workers. Highlight the dual climate and ecological crisis as the next threat and the need to plan for a just transition. The longer that takes, the more unjust it will become. 
  4. Back workers’ demands: The industry’s decade-long race to the bottom has harmed both people and the planet; workers and trade unions have their own battles. Be allies! 
  5. Avoid generalisations: Circumstances vary across workers, unions, airlines, airports and countries. Tailor your engagement appropriately



  • Establish points of contact on at least a neutral basis. E.g. by identifying common interests 
  • Build worker-minded messages into both public campaigning and union communication. Taking opportunities to highlight shared interests across the climate and labour agendas 
  • Determine who is best placed to lead or convene engagement with workers and unions 
  • Once trust is established, ask that membership be convened so that direct, two-way engagement can take place 
  • Offer capacity where it is available, e.g. by supporting a union’s message on social media, joining a worker’s strike or action, offering a speaker at a meeting.

“The key role of a union is to keep people in decent work. If this can be done in a sustainable transport sector, then all the better.”

The full guide can be found here:  


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