In a major about-turn, Ryanair has agreed to recognise trade unions who represent some of the airline’s 4,000 pilots for the first time in its history. Under Irish employment law, which applies across Europe, Ryanair has until now, refused to acknowledge unions and instead negotiated terms and conditions directly with its staff.
But with Ryanair facing the prospect of pilot strikes ahead of the busy Christmas period, the carrier’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary has said he would be prepared to recognise unions in a bid to “remove any worry or concern” for the airline’s customers.
Following the announcement, The Irish Air Line Pilots Association (IALPA) has said it might suspend a 24-hour strike which is scheduled to take place on the 20th December. The Italian union, ANPAC halted a 4-hour walkout which had been due to coincide with an air traffic control strike on 15th December.
Ryanair had been facing a coordinated wave of industrial action across Europe, with German pilots represented by Vereinigung Cockpit accusing the airline of ‘social dumping’. A Portuguese pilots union had also been close to announcing industrial action against Ryanair.
The majority of unions have welcomed Ryanair’s change of heart. Union’s including IALPA, VC, ANPAC and BALPA have agreed to suspend any action in favour of opening dialogue with the airline’s management. Ryanair has said it will only negotiate with its own pilots and not union representative employed by other airlines.
“Recognising unions will be a significant change for Ryanair, but we have delivered radical change before,” commented O’Leary.
“Putting the needs of our customers first, and avoiding disruption to their Christmas flights, is the reason why we will now deal with our pilots through recognised national union structures and we hope and expect that these structures can and will be agreed with our pilots early in the New Year.”
But what about cabin crew?
So far, however, Ryanair hasn’t made any mention of recognising unions for its 7,000+ strong team of cabin crew. Pilot unions including IALPA and ANPAC have called upon the airline to allow trade union representation for its flight attendants as a condition of opening up negotiations.
In a statement, The European Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents pilots and cabin crew across Europe said: “Ryanair must not stop at pilots’ unions.”
“Trade union recognition is a fundamental right of all workers and we fully expect it to be extended to all categories of workers (including cabin crew and ground staff.”
Eduardo Chagas, the ETF’s general secretary said a “serious reform of its employment practices” was needed at the airline.
His comments follow the leaking of a staff memo to Ryanair workers in Italy.
The memo, sent from Eddie Wilson, Ryanair’s head of HR said all cabin crew and pilots who were rostered to work during a proposed strike “must report for duty.” Wilson goes on to say that any staff who fail to show up for work will have pay increases suspended and promotion opportunities put on ice.
The memo has come under heavy criticism from the Italian government, with the country’s labour minister, warning the memo could be a breach of Italian law.
Giuliano Poletti has been quoted as calling Ryanair’s threats “extremely serious.” Reacting to the fact that the right to strike is enshrined in Italian law, Poletti commented: “You can’t go into the market, take the advantages and not respect the rules.”
Cynics may argue that Ryanair’s latest offer is a desperate attempt to avert strike action during one of the busiest and most import travel periods in the year. We may well have to wait for the New Year to see whether any real dialogue will open up between the two sides.