The embattled boss of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary has reportedly said he is “hopeful and optimistic” the airline is making progress in negotiations with cabin crew and pilot unions across Europe over a bitter pay dispute. Crew in six countries – Spain, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Italy and Germany – held a one day strike at the end of September, resulting in at least 250 flights being cancelled.
O’Leary’s comments came in an interview with Reuters where he went on to say he didn’t expect “further damage to the business this year,” signalling that deals may soon be reached. In a conference call with analysts at the start of October, the long-serving chief exec had said it wasn’t helpful to put a timetable on when a union deal might be struck, although suggested it could take between 3-5 months.
Nonetheless, O’Leary also took the opportunity to issue yet another stark warning to union leaders, saying the “airline industry is under significant pressure” as oil prices nudge $85 a barrel – “It’s not a good time for unions to be creating disharmony,” he was quoted as saying.
In spite of the strike action, Ryanair carried 12.6 million passengers last month – up 6% on the same period in 2017. The airline’s load factor reached an impressive 97%.
Yet, with many passengers wary of strike action affecting their travel plans, Ryanair has been forced to slash ticket prices. The airline issued a rare profit warning at the start of October on the back of the strike action and other costs such as the rising oil price and costs associated with European compensation rules.
Profits could be hit by as much as 12%, with Ryanair making plans to trim capacity in the Winter by 1%.
Along with a handful of union recognition agreements, the airline has also struck collective labour agreements with an Irish pilots union and two Italian cabin crew unions. Ryanair recently published its offer for cabin crew, which includes a commitment to “recognise and negotiate with national unions” and to have agreed comprehensive CLA’s with unions by the end of 2018.
At Ryanair’s recent annual general meeting, O’Leary and Chairman David Bonderman faced calls to step down over their handling of the industrial strife. Ultimately, both men were re-elected with large margins although O’Leary appeared remarkably humble about the issues facing Ryanair.