Recently, we’ve seen Ryanair make some big improvements in the way it treats its community of pilots at what is Europe’s largest low-cost airline. The carrier has offered big salary increases, improved employment contracts, and moved to recognise unions representing pilots for the first time in its history.
Emboldened by a rostering fiasco that saw Ryanair forced to cancel thousands of flights last year, pilots started to demand better working conditions – no easy feat considering the fact that Ryanair pilots are spread across bases throughout Europe, many of whom employed by agencies and simply considered ‘contractors’.
Ryanair moved quickly to appease its pilots and even agreed to allow union recognition for cabin crew after the dispute threatened to spread to its flight attendant community as well. But it looks like Ryanair has taken a very different approach to dealing with cabin crew than it has with flight crew.
The European Cabin Crew Association says Ryanair has ignored the “fundamental rights” of cabin crew across Europe. The association claims Ryanair refuses to abide by employment rights in the countries they hire staff – instead, arguing that cabin crew have Irish employment contracts which offer less protections and rights.
For the most part, Ryanair hasn’t really faced too many problems from its cabin crew community. Unlike pilot groups, flight attendants have failed to organise themselves in a way that would really threaten Ryanair or force the airline to take action.
That being said, however, we have just seen the last of three days of strike action from Portuguese-based cabin crew led by the SNPVAC union. Cabin crew walked out over the Easter holiday, holding separate 24-hour strikes on 29th March and 1st April.
The SNPVAC says 91% of cabin crew at Ryanair bases in Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Ponta Delgada took part in the strikes and 27 out of 49 scheduled flights on those two days were cancelled. A further 15 flights operated normally.
But in a worrying development, the last seven flights were allegedly operated by cabin crew from other countries – critics claim a cynical attempt by Ryanair to break the strikes.
Now, it’s been reported that Spanish cabin crew were told they would face “serious consequences” if they didn’t agree to work on the Portuguese services. The revelation was made by the Europa Press newspaper which has claimed Ryanair’s director of Human Resources, Darrell Hughes personally called Spanish workers with the stark warning.
Hughes is alleged to have told Spanish workers that any refusal to work a flight would be considered a “contract break”. While Ryanair wouldn’t be allowed to call in other cabin crew based in Portugal to break the strike, it looks like the airline believes it can legitimately use cabin crew from a different European country.
Nonetheless, the SNPVAC says their action has been a success. Speaking on behalf of the union, Luciana Passo said he was “looking forward to meeting with the (Ryanair) management any time soon.”
“We the SNPVAC ask the management to fully comply with national labour law. We are awaiting fair negotiations with the management to come to a basic understanding of a respectful social partnership.”
The union is calling on Ryanair to improve pay and conditions for cabin crew, as well as improving paternity leave for new fathers.