Only yesterday, we reported on the fairly extraordinary news that Ryanair had managed to strike a major deal on a collective labour agreement with four cabin crew unions in Italy. Crucially, the airline had agreed to offer local Italian employment contracts – a significant stumbling block that Ryanair had previously refused to offer, instead favouring Irish contracts no matter where crew members were based.
The news appeared to be a sign the airline was finally progressing workers rights in line with what unions and investors are now demanding. Ryanair has been struggling with industrial strife since late last year when a pilot rostering fiasco unsurfaced deeper resentment of working conditions.
On the back of threatened strike action, Ryanair finally agreed to recognise trade unions as controversial working conditions were finally exposed in the mainstream media. Michael O’Leary, the airline’s longtime chief executive (main picture) admitted improved pay and conditions for workers would increase costs and affect profits for several years to come.
The deal with Italian unions could become the blueprint for future negotiations in other countries where strike action is still being threatened. With the company’s annual general meeting only next week, the Ryanair board will want to show shareholders that they have the ability to bring to an end this troubled period.
So, if proven true, new allegations from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) seem incredible. A couple of days ago, cabin crew working for Ryanair in Poland decided to form their own union – it covers all five bases in the country and is affiliated to a nationally recognised trade union. Ryanair reportedly did not react well to the news.
Things came to a head on Thursday when cabin crew representatives met Ryanair management to announce they would withdrawing from an internal employee representation system in favour of the union acting as their negotiator. The ITF explains:
“Instead of respecting the workers’ choice for collective bargaining, Ryanair immediately took steps to deny Polish crew trade union rights. Managers refused to receive CWR (the unions) registration papers, and told workers they would be made redundant if they did not accept self-employment contracts with Ryanair Sun by 30 September.”
— ETF-Europe (@ETF_Europe) September 13, 2018
As an explainer, Ryanair Sun is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ryanair. It’s mainly a charter airline and Ryanair has big plans for the Polish offshoot – including plans to triple its size by 2019. If you may remember, the airline threatened to move Dublin-based aircraft and staff to the Polish subsidiary after a series of strike by Irish pilots.
It’s widely believed Ryanair picked Ryanair Sun due to its low-cost base, including staff wages. Union recognition has the real potential to increase costs although refusing union representation does appear to go against Ryanair’s promise…
“After saying it would recognise trade union rights, Ryanair is taking a big step backwards in Poland. This is a clear attempt to deny the rights of Polish cabin crew to trade union representation and collective bargaining,” commented Stephen Cotton, the general secretary of the ITF, who called Ryanair’s action “infantile union-busting tactics.”
Investors rally against Ryanair
Yesterday, one of Ryanair’s investors – the UK-based Local Authority Pension Fund Forum – made a recommendation that members oppose the reelection of David Bonderman as chairman of the board. The LAPFF cited “significant concerns” over the airline’s treatment of workers.
Quoted by Reuters, the LAPFF Chair Ian Greenwood commented:
“Ryanair has failed to adequately address concerns about the company’s troubled relationship with its employees and the potential impact on its business.”
“The company faces more strikes and allegations of poor working conditions continue to emerge. Questions about the company’s business model and governance now pose a threat to shareholder value.”