Ryanair has been referred for formal investigation by two UK parliamentary committees over its treatment of cabin crew including the pay and benefits they are expected to receive. The committees are independent groups that are set up by lawmakers to investigate “issues of interest” in greater depth.
Yesterday, MP Frank Field, the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee and MP Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business Strategy Committee wrote to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (the UK’s tax authorities) asking them to investigate Ryanair over its treatment of cabin crew.
The issue at the heart of the dispute is whether cabin crew at the low-cost Irish airline can be expected to earn at least the UK’s legal minimum wage. Ryanair’s unorthodox working practices came to the attention of lawmakers in December 2017 following media reports about the working life of crew at the airline.
Allegations surfaced that crew employed as contractors through two employment agencies had to work additional hours with no pay and were very often put on standby duties which offered little or no pay. Lawmakers were also unimpressed with Ryanair’s policy of forcing crew to pay for their own training and uniforms – often coming to thousands of Euros.
The lawmakers apparently wrote to Ryanair asking the airline for “clarification” and even invited them to parliament to provide further evidence. Ryanair’s response, however, did not impress the MP’s.
In a letter from Field and Reeves to the Director of Labour Market Enforcement, the two MP’s roundly criticised the airline, saying:
“After failing to provide all the information requested and offering broad, general figures on rates of pay that contradict the contracts we have seen, Ryanair has declined to respond to any further queries from the Committee.”
In a letter, dated the 12th January, Ryanair said much of the information being requested by lawmakers was “commercially sensitive employment information which is confidential.”
The letter continued: “We have already replied to your earlier 191h December letter which was based on inaccurate and false media reports. We confirmed that our cabin crew pay exceeds UK National Minimum Wage.”
And then in an astonishing rebuke, Ryanair went on to say:
“May we respectfully point out that as an Irish airline, based in and managed from Ireland, we have no obligation to provide your committee with confidential employment information which, if disclosed, would be of benefit to our competitors, and certainly not in circumstances where your requests are routed via press releases to the national media.”
The parliamentary committees were not impressed – pointing out that Ryanair employs more cabin crew in the UK than any other country. They say they want to “ensure the rights of Ryanair cabin crew are protected, but also to ensure that there is no ‘race to the bottom’ across the aviation sector.”
While Ryanair says cabin crew should expect to earn between €24 000 and €40 000 per year, there’s concern that for many employees their actual pay may fall way below this figure.
Elsewhere, though, Ryanair has managed to secure a significant victory, saying that pilots at all of its 15 UK bases had voted to accept a pay deal offered by the airline. Ryanair says it will offer its flight crews a pay increase of up to 20% – offering more than rivals such as Norwegian and Jet2.
At the same time, Ryanair continues to negotiate with unions in an attempt to figure out a long-term solution to a fractured relationship between the two sides.