There’s a big difference between agreeing to recognise trade unions and actually striking deals that improve the working lives of your employees. In a new report, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) claims there’s a still long way to go before Irish low-cost airline Ryanair can be considered a fair employer – one year after it finally agreed to allow its flight and cabin crew to be represented by unions.
In fact, the airline has so far only managed to sign deals with unions in just eight out of 21 countries across Europe where its crew are based. That means that 12-months after Ryanair made its historic decision (in part to avoid the prospect of a huge Christmas strike) only half of its workforce now have access to freedom of association and just one deal actually represents a change to the working conditions of cabin crew.
Even then, the deals that Ryanair have managed to strike vary enormously – In Italy, cabin crew have managed to negotiate a full collective bargaining agreement, while their colleagues in Ireland, the UK, Sweden and Greece only have recognition agreements. Yet in the majority of countries, the airline doesn’t even recognise a trade union yet – making the prospect of cabin crew in these counties getting access to a collective labour agreement anytime soon a distant dream.
The ITF acknowledges that Ryanair’s workers have won improvements in some areas but claims many of the underlying problems that caused industrial unrest in the first place are far from resolved.
“A year on from its recognition announcement, Ryanair is trying to claim it has achieved industrial peace,” explains the ITF’s general secretary, Stephen Cotton.
“In fact, our report shows that many of the issues that triggered strike action have yet to be resolved.”
The report claims that Ryanair promotes a culture of fear amongst its workforce and that the airline is managed in an “autocratic, punitive and anti-union management style.” Allegations against the airline include “union busting” efforts and claims the airline violated the right to strike.
In one incident, the airline sacked six members of cabin crew after a photo of them apparently being forced to sleep on the floor of a crew check-in area went viral. The crew are currently appealing their termination. In another incident, several crew members were sacked for reporting as fatigued – a situation that the ITF says compromises safety.
“A year ago Ryanair said it would make immediate and swift progress in recognising unions and collective bargaining, but the progress has been unnecessarily slow and painful for workers, passengers and shareholders,” the report says.
There’s a still more to do and there could well be more industrial unrest in the New Year (or even before).