The International Transport Workers’ Federation, a body which represents over 700 transport trade unions in 150 countries, has called on Ryanair – Europe’s largest low-cost airline, to “play fair” and start honouring the commitments they made last year. The Federation has said Ryanair must “radically change their employment model” as part of an effort that has already seen the carrier recognise trade unions for the first time in its history.
“This is an employer that has made a radical shift in finally acknowledging workers’ right to trade unions and collective bargaining,” explained the ITF’s general secretary, Stephen Cotton. He said Ryanair had been “forced” to change “by their own workforce and pressure from our members.”
The budget carrier agreed to recognise unions in December 2017 after a pilot rostering fiasco last summer led to mounting pressure for change and the threat of strike action. So far, Ryanair has been surprisingly willing to engage with unions that represent flight crew and the airline has offered a number of concessions and contractual improvements – including significant pay raises and the offer of direct employment.
Progression for cabin crew, however, hasn’t been quite so quick – with some unions claiming Ryanair has been unwilling to negotiate with them. At the start of April, a Portuguese cabin crew union staged a three-day strike over a number of issues including paternity leave offered by the airline.
One of the biggest gripes for many unions is the fact that all Ryanair cabin crew are given Irish employment contracts. But while the airline and its aircraft might be Irish, many of its planes and the staff who operate on them are based at airports across Europe.
They say they should be given local contracts with locally agreed collective labour agreements. Major competitor, easyJet already offers local contracts of employment for its pilots and cabin crew throughout Europe.
There had been hopes Ryanair would capitulate after a major victory at the European Court of Justice last year. The case was brought by six members of Ryanair cabin crew based in Belgium who argued disputes over working practices should be heard in a local court rather than in Ireland.
The thinking being is that many European countries give workers more rights than that are available in Ireland. Bringing a case in a local court could, therefore, result in a more favourable judgement for the employee.
At the time, Ryanair attempted to spin the result, saying the home base of the employee wasn’t the sole factor in determining which court would hear a case. In fact, in some cases, the airline said Irish law gave better protection than other European countries – such as greater maternity leave than that offered in Belgium.
Eddie Wilson, Ryanair’s head of human resources argued the court ruling wouldn’t change the airline’s Irish employment contracts. Although that didn’t stop the airline’s shares temporarily tumbling on speculation that the ruling would lead to higher costs for Ryanair.
“Ryanair’s claim that this judgment supports them stretches reality beyond its breaking point,” commented Ruwan Subasinghe, a legal adviser to the ITF.
“It’s pure wish fulfilment. The verdict is clear. They lost. Big time.”
Since then, Ryanair has been in “serious talks” with unions and some have even been formally recognised. But the ITF doesn’t want Ryanair just to talk with unions – they want a “significant clean-up of their employment rights” and of course, local employment contracts.
How Ryanair plans to react remains to be seen. The fight for cabin crew may not be over yet.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.