The proverbial race to the bottom may, at last, be coming to an end. As passengers demand ever lower airfares, the airlines have been more than happy to accommodate our wishes with relentless cost-cutting drives. The master of this business strategy in Europe has long been Irish low-cost carrier, Ryanair.
But as in so many other industries, workers have allegedly taken the brunt of ruthless cost-cutting campaigns. Pay and perks have been slashed, rights eroded and contracts rewritten. The pilot’s and cabin crew at many airlines, not least Ryanair, have been left in no doubt – there are plenty of people who want your job and they can be easily replaced.
Yet, in an unprecedented wave of coordinated action, several European pilot’s unions, representing flight crew at Ryanair have announced plans to hold strike action in a bid to improve pay conditions at the airline. If the action goes ahead, it will be the first time flight crew at Ryanair have ever walked out on strike.
On Tuesday, many news outlets reported the announcement from Irish pilot’s union, IALPA of its intention to hold a 24-hour strike beginning on 20th December. It follows a move by the Italian ANPAC union to organise a much shorter 4-hour strike which is set for 15th December.
Now, the German ‘Vereinigung Cockpit’ (VC) union has come out to say “strike action within Ryanair can be expected at any time.” A separate announcement from a Portuguese pilot association is also expected to back industrial action in the next few days.
A spokesperson for the VC union accused Ryanair of “social dumping.” The union’s Ingolf Schumacher, said “most airlines offer better working conditions than Ryanair” explaining that Ryanair’s many contract pilot’s who are effectively self-employed don’t enjoy the same pay and conditions as pilot’s at other airlines.
VC kündigt Streik bei Ryanair an: Ab sofort ist mit Streikmaßnahmen zu rechnen. Damit soll die Aufnahme von Tarifverhandlungen zur Regelung von marktgerechten Arbeits- und Vergütungsbedingungen für Ryanair-Piloten erzwungen werden. Hier geht’s zur PM: https://t.co/16Sgesc3up pic.twitter.com/nA0yt7E0VC
— Vereinigung Cockpit (@vcockpit) December 12, 2017
The issue, long ignored by consumers, came to prominence in September when Ryanair was forced to cancel over 315,000 bookings at short notice following a major gaffe over the rostering of flight crew holidays. Long-suffering pilot’s used the opportunity to shed a light on Ryanair’s employment practices and campaign for better conditions.
Despite an initial public backlash, many passengers ultimately voted with their wallets and returned to Ryanair. Last month, the carrier reported record-breaking traffic figures for the month of October, with 11.8 million passengers carried – up 8% on the same period in 2016.
Ryanair’s chief spokesperson, Kenny Jacobs said the increase in passengers was partly driven by deep discounting on airfares.
Efforts by pilots to drive change at the airline have been hampered by the way Ryanair organises its workers. Under Irish law, Ryanair chooses not to recognise trade unions and instead, handles pay and conditions directly with pilots – many of whom are employed by third-party agencies.
The IALPA strike will only apply to the few pilots directly employed by Ryanair at its Dublin base. In a statement, the airline said it estimated less than 28% of its pilots at the base would be eligible to take part – In a strongly worded retort the airline said the strike would be:
“confined to a small group of pilots who are working their notice and will shortly leave Ryanair, so they don’t care how much upset they cause colleagues or customers.”
The airline said it would “face down” the strike from “Ryanair’s very well paid pilots.” It confirmed some disruption may occur and threatened to remove agreed benefits from any flight crew who took part in the industrial action.