Ryanair faces pilots’ strike this week and later action by cabin and ground staff
Thousands of Ryanair’s Irish passengers face delays and knock-on disruption if the airline’s Dublin-based pilots go ahead with a planned 24-hour strike.
The airline responded by saying that passengers on its Irish routes account for less than 7 per cent of its total, meaning 93 per cent of its passengers would be unaffected. But later this month cabin crew and ground staff at its European hubs in mainland Europe are also planning to strike, threatening significantly more disruption across hubs in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Belgium.
Against that is the continuing threat of industrial action by French air traffic controllers and by their Spanish counterparts.
About 120 members of the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) are due to stop work for 24 hours because of a long-running dispute over seniority. Ryanair says it invited IALPA to meet at its headquarters in Swords, north Dublin, on 20 separate occasions since January but it has repeatedly turned down the invitation, requesting a neutral venue for which it is even prepared to pay.
Relations soured even further last week following the publication of an internal memo in which Ryanair’s “chief people officer” Eddie Wilson described the planned strike action as “blackmail”. He said that if no negotiations had taken place within the first three days of this week then disruption on Thursday was highly likely.
IALPA said the language used by Mr Wilson “only pushes the parties further apart” and downplayed expectations of a resolution by this Thursday.
The union balloted its Ryanair members and 94 of the 95 votes returned favoured strike: “The only pilots that will be going on strike are the directly employed pilots; they are the only ones we balloted, so we do have a mandate from that group of employees…we have a mandate because we got a 99 per cent return on that vote.”
The dispute centres around the lack of a seniority agreement that would indicate why pilots are based at a certain location. The union also wants a system to show when an opportunity for transfer is approaching. There are further issues around pay and annual leave.
Ryanair cabin crews in Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugal also intend to strike this month over several demands.
Ryanair, and other airlines, has already been hit by air traffic control strikes in Europe that left more than 210,000 passengers facing flight cancellations last month. It said more than 1,100 flights were cancelled for the second month running due to air traffic control strikes over four weekends in June, as well as staff shortages in the UK, Germany and France.
It has been reported that if negotiations do take place they will be with the company’s chief operating officer Peter Bellew and Eddie Wilson and not chief Executive Michael O’Leary.
The last time strikes were threatened was just before Christmas last year but CEO Michael O’Leary narrowly averted them by agreeing to recognise unions for the first time in Ryanair’s 34-year history. But in the time since then the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) held a summit in Dublin in which pilots and cabin crew put together a list of 34 demands from Ryanair – but which Mr O’Leary dismissed as “pointless”.
The ITF said in a statement: “Conditions at Ryanair have been heavily criticised over the last few years, with the range of issues highlighted including poverty pay, draconian disciplinary procedures, unachievable sales targets and staff having to pay for items that most decent employers provide.”
Last week it said: “If Ryanair fails to respond promptly and appropriately then it risks industrial action over the summer. The ITF and the ETF support all lawful industrial action undertaken by their national affiliates with the aim of winning a fair deal for workers.”
Pilots are asking for a change in seniority rules so that those who have worked at Ryanair the longest would be eligible for first option on base transfers and annual leave.
Meanwhile cabin crew want better rights to sick pay and the end of steep sales targets that require them to sell perfumes, scratchcards and other items during the flights.
Ryanair offers to meet its pilots (and FORSA) at neutral venue on Tues or Wed to avoid unnecessary pilot strike on Thurs (see attached). pic.twitter.com/G0J0yTssbf
— Ryanair (@Ryanair) July 9, 2018
In a statement posted on Twitter, Ryanair’s “chief people officer” Eddie Wilson addressed the union thus: “Having already agreed a 20 per cent pilot pay increase this year, and having already received our proposals on both base transfers and a seniority list, we invite you to call off this unnecessary strike as there is no reasonable grounds for threat to disrupt the travel plans of our Irish customers next Thursday.”
Ryanair flies in 37 countries and carried 130 million passengers last year. It said it has “already engaged in extensive negotiations with national cabin crew unions across Europe during which all of these, and other issues, are being negotiated.”
Only Irish routes will face cancellations in relation to this Thursday’s 24-hour pilot strike (12 July).
Ryanair said: “Since Ireland accounts for less than 7 per cent of Ryanair flights, we expect that 93 per cent of our customers will be unaffected by any strike.”
Ryanair to cancel up to 30 of 290 Irish flights on Thurs 12 July, only some IRE-UK flights affected.
All Ireland to Europe flights to operate as normal as majority of Irish pilots fly on Thurs: https://t.co/gsHntPvAeV
— Ryanair (@Ryanair) July 10, 2018
If they go ahead it will be on top of French air traffic control (ATC) strikes. Last month Ryanair said ATC shortages and strikes meant more than 71,000 flights were delayed in May, affecting 200,000 passengers. In June that rose to 210,000 passengers.
O’Leary said European air traffic controller are “approaching the point of meltdown”. He was supported by IAG Chief Executive Willie Walsh, whose company owns British Airways and Aer Lingus, who said that air traffic control strikes on mainland Europe are more of a threat to airlines than rising fuel prices.
“The thing most impacting is ATC strikes and the ongoing ATC environment, which is a mess. It is destroying traffic throughout Europe. We thought it would get better in 2018 but it’s getting worse,” he was reported to have told an aviation conference in Sydney.
There have also been strike threats from Spanish ATC staff, which would affect flights between the UK and holiday spots including Ibiza, Barcelona, Majorca and Menorca.
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