Ryanair pilots: New year, same threats

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2018 was a pivotal year for Ryanair and its pilots and cabin crew, engaging in the previously unchartered territory of social dialogue. As negotiations on Collective Labor Agreements (CLAs) continue at varying speeds throughout Europe, Ryanair persists in using threats as a bargaining tool. Within the first three days of 2019, in negotiations with cabin crew unions in Spain, Ryanair threatened closure of two bases in the Canary Islands if the cabin crew did not sign CLAs by the 18 Jan 2019. Similar threats and ultimatums had been made to pilot unions last year and seriously undermine the pilots’ confidence in Ryanair’s good faith. Pilot unions in several countries have suspended negotiations as a result of such threats hanging in the air.

“We see base closures and downsizing used by Ryanair as the ‘Bogeyman’ to push employees into submission – no strikes, no disputes, no hard negotiations, just accept our ‘deal’,” says Jon Horne, ECA President. “Ryanair has a history of this behavior, with the result of alienating its employees. Maybe management has forgotten already that this ‘new Ryanair’ is supposed to be a better version of itself? Whatever the reason, such behavior is not acceptable and shows a complete disregard for any form of normal industrial relations, contradicting its own claims of establishing positive relations with pilot (and cabin crew) unions.”

The threats of base closures and downsizing have been used previously on a number of occasions. Are they a scare-tactic or punishment to employees who exercise their basic right to collective bargaining and to strike?

In 2018, immediately after Ryanair pilots were on strike in Germany and the Netherlands, Ryanair closed the Eindhoven base in the Netherlands, closed the Bremen base and downsized one other base in Germany. The Dutch Pilot union VNV brought Ryanair to Court to challenge this forced transfer of crew as a result of the base closure. In its decision, the Dutch district court in Hertogenbosch found that Ryanair had failed to explain why the move of crew was necessary and stated the decision to shut down the base seemed to be retaliation for the strikes (source: Reuters)

Similarly, in mid-2018, Ryanair issued protective notice to approximately 300 pilots and cabin crew in Dublin, with the threat of moving them to Poland or terminating their contracts altogether. Previously, Ryanair closed bases in Marseille (France) and Billund and Copenhagen (Denmark), in an attempt to sidestep unions and avoid the constraints of local labor or social security regulations. In December 2017, following its cancellation crisis, Ryanair reportedly threatened to impose sanctions on Dublin-based pilots if they sought union representation.

“Ryanair claims there is some kind of commercial reason for these base closures and downsizing threats.” says Jon Horne. “But to date – as the Dutch court verdicts showed – it has failed to provide compelling evidence to back this claim. Instead, several base closure threats have disappeared into thin air when labor issues have been solved.”

“Ryanair’s failure to learn how to engage in normal industrial relations practices could be a significant destabilizing force in 2019,” says ECA Secretary General Philip von Schöppenthau. “Does Ryanair realize the impact on crews’ lives and families in those bases? It is time for Ryanair – and its shareholders – to consider how such ‘weaponizing’ of base closures is compatible with claims of establishing positive union relations and with their social dialogue and crew retention strategy. In our view, it is simply counter-productive and unsustainable.”

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