Wednesday 16 October 2019

Ryanair pilots in move to establish non-official union

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Gretchen Friemann and John Mulligan

Some Ryanair pilots are advancing efforts to collectively negotiate pay and job conditions, setting the stage for further clashes with management.

Last week, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary implored some 4,200 pilots to remain with the airline rather than jump ship to a rival carrier.

He pledged significant wage increases and improved job security but insisted these terms must be struck with the company's in-house employee representative councils (ERC).

These entities, located at most of the carrier's 87 bases, have formed the bedrock of Ryanair's industrial relations strategy.

However, a large number of pilots are militating to reform this structure and effectively create an unofficial union as a pan-European ERC (EERC). The concept would likely be anathema to Mr O'Leary.

Since the airline's foundation, the flamboyant CEO has resolutely refused to engage with unions, quipping recently that "hell would freeze over" before he would welcome such organisations into the company.

But some pilots' determination to pursue this path, and Mr O'Leary's staunch opposition to it, threatens to prolong the airline's rostering difficulties that helped trigger the cancellation of more than 2,000 flights.

In a sign these pilots are digging in for a lengthy battle, a widely circulated letter over the weekend laid out an action plan for the establishment of what it described as a "central structured body, ready to act as fully recognised negotiating partner for all contractual issues with Ryanair management".

A representative for the airline declined to comment when contacted by the Irish Independent yesterday.

It remains unclear how many pilots support this push for a single representative body, although sources have estimated that some of the pilots in at least 15 bases are behind the campaign.

The letter, signed the "interim EERC", does not disclose names but stated the organising committee is "made up of current Ryanair pilots" and will remain anonymous until the "EERC is ready to assume position".

A three-step plan urges the creation of a grassroots organisation with pilots electing representatives to a regional and national ERC.

Ultimately it envisages the EERC negotiating collective labour agreements (CLAs) on behalf of Ryanair pilots, a move that would rupture management's opposition to a unified employee stance on industrial relations.

This policy has so far shielded the airline from the crippling strikes experienced at rival carriers. But if the EERC gains legitimacy, the threat of industrial action will hang over management.

In the letter, the committee stated that if efforts to negotiate CLAs result in a "negative outcome" it will enforce "industrial action". If the outcome is "positive" the pilots will sign up to "new, local contracts with industry leading conditions".

Staff have long complained about the working conditions at the airline.

In the letter, the anonymous group of pilots urge their colleagues to "organise yourselves in national ERC councils (NECs)". The committee stated that the number of representatives in each NEC should hinge "on the amount of bases in that country; more for Italy, fewer for Sweden".

In an effort to sustain momentum in the fledgling campaign, the letter urged pilots to circulate the document in all bases and "continue talking in chat groups".

It encouraged colleagues to "represent the pilot wishes from your base" and presses them to "be the leader your colleagues expect you to be."

Irish Independent

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