According to a new Reuters report, the Dublin-based low-cost airline Ryanair plans to grow its wholly-owned Polish subsidiary which uses self-employed cabin crew on lower wages than counterparts in other countries. At present, the subsidiary which is known as Ryanair Sun only operates mainly charter flights for Polish travel agencies but the airline’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary has previously said he plans to grow the company – possibly extending its reach into other markets.
Unlike in other countries where Ryanair has been forced to accept the unionisation of pilots and cabin crew after a year of industrial strife, its Polish-based cabin crew have been forced to sign self-employment contracts. Under current Polish law, self-employed contractors are not permitted to join a union, have fewer rights and less access to benefits such as medical coverage or sick pay.
Ryanair attempted to force the self-employment contracts upon its Polish staff back in September after cabin crew took steps to form a union. The airline initially gave crew a one-week deadline to sign the new contract or be made redundant – so far, around 100 cabin crew have signed the self-employment contract, although the union thinks many did so out of fear after five staffers were sacked.
For its part, Ryanair doesn’t think it’s doing anything wrong by forcing Polish crew to sign the new contracts.
“It’s not necessarily the best model for union membership growth, so I would expect the unions to say negative things … But look, it’s the way the Polish market works,” explained Ryanair’s chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs as quoted by Reuters.
The Polish flag-carrier, LOT was forced to cancel a number of flights in October after it too attempted to force its own cabin crew to move from permanent contracts onto self-employment contracts.
With controversy mounting over the practice in Poland, the authorities are currently reviewing the practice and a law to allow self-employed contractors to join a union is set to come into effect in January.
Earlier this year, Ryanair issued a profit warning in part due to rising staff costs associated with unionisation efforts across Europe. So far, the airline has managed to strike deals with unions in a number of countries including Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Ireland – the new collective labour agreements guarantee staff enhanced rights and benefits as well as better pay.
O’Leary has set his sights on the rapid expansion of Ryanair Sun – in part, as a way to compete with Eastern European low-cost airline Wizz Air which is backed by private equity investors, Indigo Partners.