The Irish low-cost airline Ryanair has been told by the Dutch labour authority (UWV) that it did not have the right to fire pilots and cabin crew who were based Eindhoven, Netherlands when it decided to close the base last year. Although the workers were laid off late last year, the Dutch authorities have now ruled that Ryanair must either reopen the base or continue to pay the crew as if they were operating flights as normal.
The decision by Ryanair to close it Eindhoven base was announced just days after crew staged a 24-hour strike in protest at the low wages and poor working conditions they claimed Ryanair offered its staff. The action followed a period of sustained industrial strife for the low-cost airline after it finally agreed to recognise unions for the first time in its history. Workers in several countries staged strikes in a bid to improve working conditions.
At the time Ryanair claimed economic conditions and poor operating performance had driven its decision to close the Eindhoven base. Trade unions, however, argued the move was in direct response to the strike action and was an attempt to threaten staff at other bases. Eindhoven had just 16 pilots and 15 cabin crew, making it seem like a pretty easy target.
Ryanair offered new jobs for the affected crew in alternatives bases located mainly in Eastern Europe but they were given just weeks to accept the relocation or be dismissed. The crew decided to fight the decision.
Under Dutch law, mass redundancies have to be approved by the country’s labour authority or UWV. Ryanair would have to demonstrate the necessity for the closure – something that the UWV says it has failed to do.
“Ryanair tried to frame this case as a matter of market freedom: the freedom of businesses to establish themselves and operate in the single market.,” explained François Ballestero of the European Transport Workers Federation.
“Unions responded that this was really a matter of worker freedom: the fundamental freedoms to join a union and take strike action for fair pay and conditions.”
“This is a very big win over the biggest exploiter in aviation,” commented Asmae Hajjari, the director of the union who brought the case for the sacked crew.
Although Ryanair now recognises unions and labour agreements have been made in several countries, critics claim the airline must fundamentally alter the way it treats staff if it really wants to improve conditions and become an employer of choice. We’ve reached out to Ryanair for comment but had not received a response by the time of publication.