Tomorrow, Ryanair cabin crew in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain will hold a 24-hour stoppage in what is expected to be the most widespread strike the airline has ever seen. Pilots in Germany will also join the protests – part of an ongoing dispute over allegations of poor pay, working conditions and “social dumping”.
Ryanair says it has already had to cancel at least 290 flights and says that all affected customers have been contacted – although the airline had been refusing to publicly disclose which flights will be impacted.
The situation is anything but simple – Ryanair has successfully signed off on collective labour agreements with cabin crew unions in Italy and has negotiated deals with pilot unions in several countries including Ireland. Yet progress in other countries has stalled with no sign of either side compromising.
We have pre-cancelled some more flights (under 100) tomorrow (Fri 28) due to a short notice strike, called by the VC union in Germany. All affected customers have received emails/text messages this morning advising them of these flight cancellations and their options.
— Ryanair (@Ryanair) September 27, 2018
For it’s part, Ryanair says it is willing to enter into negotiations and has placed an offer on the table which meets many, if not all, of the demands of crew unions. Gabriel Mocho Rodriguez, from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) though dismisses much of what Ryanair has claimed as “rhetoric”.
“These strikes show that, despite its recent rhetoric, Ryanair has a long way to go before it enjoys sustainable industrial relations. You cannot claim negotiations are going well when workers in six countries on your network decide to take simultaneous strike action,” Rodriguez explained.
A showdown at Ryanair’s annual general meeting last week saw the airline’s long-serving chairman David Bonderman retain his position (albeit with a smaller share of the vote) despite calls from union leaders and some shareholders to change the governance of the low-cost carrier.
In typical Ryanair fashion, the airline has come out fighting – detailing a number of allegations against unions and has even filed a complaint with the European Commission, claiming that the strikes are being deliberately orchestrated by crew from competitor airlines.
The allegation is that crew from rival airlines are trying to put Ryanair at a disadvantage and harm the business in order to benefit their own employers. Officials, however, refute these claims and point to the fact that unions pool their resources from various employers in order to share knowledge and skills to benefit all union members – no matter what airline they work for.
“Progress is being impeded by the interference of competitor airline pilots and cabin crew who are conspiring to call repeated and unnecessary strikes,” claimed Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive.
“We are not aware of any other multi-national company in Europe where its union negotiations are interfered with by competitor employees. Volkswagen’s union negotiations do not take place with Peugeot car workers. Tesco is not required to meet with ASDA employees”
“Yet in Ryanair currently, we are being asked to negotiate with pilots and/or cabin crew of Aer Lingus, Norwegian, TAP, Eurowings, KLM and Braathens. This is anti-competitive behaviour which damages consumers.”
Yesterday, O’Leary met with the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Marianne Thyssen to discuss the ongoing industrial unrest. While O’Leary is said to have requested the meeting, Thyssen was clear in what she thought of the situation:
“Respecting EU law is not something over which workers should have to negotiate, nor is it something which can be done differently from country to country,”
“I made this very clear to Mr. O’Leary today. I am not against Ryanair or against the low-cost business model. But with great success also comes great responsibility. The internal market is not a jungle; it has clear rules on fair labour mobility and worker protection. This is not an academic debate, but about concrete social rights of the worker.”
In the last few weeks, Ryanair came under fire for attempting to force Polish cabin crew from forming a union – despite its claims that it would recognise unions.
Ryanair has built a very successful business but it’s facing a fundamental change in how it operates that business and how it treats its employees. The airline has previously saved significant costs by basing crew throughout Europe but it now needs to realise that a one size fits all approach isn’t going to work.
It’s great that Ryanair has managed to successfully negotiate a deal with cabin crew in Italy but it can’t simply impose the same deal on other countries. For this to work, Ryanair will need to listen and act accordingly.