The chief executive of Ryanair, the often outspoken Michael O’Leary has been named in a new poll as the World’s Worst Boss. Other contenders for the gong included the Jeff Bezos, the founder of retail giant Amazon, as well as Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi – companies both known for complaints from workers about poor working conditions and even worse pay. Yet, it probably won’t come as a surprise to many in the aviation industry that an airline boss would scoop the unwanted award.
O’Leary was voted the World’s Worst Boss at the recent Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – it comes a year after Ryanair finally started to recognise unions for the first time in its history. The airline had faced the prospect of a huge strike by pilots in the run-up to Christmas last year after a rostering fiasco in the Summer gave staffers the confidence to demand better working conditions.
Ryanair is one of the largest airlines in Europe but recently cut its annual profit forecast by as much as 12% following a year of industrial turmoil in which pilots and cabin crew have led strike action in several European countries. The airline has been forced to cut fares in order to meet its passenger and growth targets. Ryanair says costs will rise after disgruntled workers finally won concessions from the airline.
O’Leary has been at the helm of the Dublin-based carrier since 1994 and is largely credited with transforming what was once a regional Irish airline into the behemoth that it is today. Critics, though, say the airline has achieved this phenomenal growth by abusing workers rights and what is called “social dumping”.
Following the significant industrial strife, the chief exec has said he doesn’t want to want to commit to a new five-year contract. Citing his advancing years, O’Leary has told reporters that he would instead prefer to move to a 12-month rolling contract when his current tenure comes to an end in September 2019.
At Ryanair’s AGM this year, O’Leary resisted pressure from trade unionists and some investors to step down and eventually won backing from a significant majority of shareholders. Ryanair’s long-time chairman, David Bonderman also faced opposition and saw approval for his appointment fall in the vote – some large corporate shareholders have said they will continue to vote against both O’Leary and Bonderman because they believe the duo don’t have the ability to improve the corporate culture at the airline.
In recent months, Ryanair has struck several deals with pilot and cabin crew unions that enhance pay, benefits and workers rights. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), however, says the majority of workers are yet to see any improvement to their pay or benefits.
The famously combative O’Leary has recently presented a more contrite persona but it seems like it was too late to save him from winning the award this year. Perhaps, another airline boss will win the prize in 2019 – flight attendants at American Airlines may well want to nominate their chief executive, Doug Parker, who has the lost the confidence of an increasing number of employees at what is the largest airline in the world.