Monday 19 August 2019

Ryanair hit back after pilots in the UK vote for five days of strike action

Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair
Photo: PA
Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair Photo: PA

Shawn Pogatchnik

Ryanair pilots based in the UK will strike on August 22-23 and September 2-4 if Ryanair doesn’t meet its demands for better pay and conditions, the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) announced Wednesday in a move that threatens disruption in Ireland as well.

Balpa said 80pc of its Ryanair pilots in the UK voted in favour of the strike plan on 72pc turnout.

But Ryanair fired back in a letter to union chiefs provided to the Irish Independent. In it Ryanair's director of HR strategy Darrell Hughes argues that the vote for strike action was made by only 36pc of Ryanair's 1,250 UK-based pilots and did not represent a credible mandate to strike.

"Balpa should be working with Ryanair to save UK pilot jobs, not endanger them through ill-timed and ill-judged disruption of our customers’

travel plans, just 10 weeks before the threat of a no-deal Brexit," Mr Hughes wrote. "We remain available for talks at your convenience."

Balpa began balloting Ryanair pilot members July 24.

Results from a similar ballot of Ireland-based Ryanair pilots are expected Friday, raising the spectre of potential joint strike action in Ryanair's two biggest markets.

Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton kept the door open to further talks.

“We have had no formal offer from Ryanair and it is imperative that we resolve this dispute urgently to avoid strike action," Mr Strutton said. "No pilot wants to spoil the public’s travel plans, but at the moment it seems we have no choice.”

Ryanair’s Ireland-based pilots previously mounted one-day strikes in July and August 2018 in a dispute over leave, seniority and base assignments. Ryanair pilots also staged periodic strikes in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden last summer. Ryanair said that disruption cost it €120m in lost business, refunds and fare cuts.

“Decades of Ryanair refusing to deal with unions has resulted in two things: firstly, a management that apparently doesn’t understand how to work with unions; and secondly a company that doesn’t have a number of standard agreements that any union would reasonably expect in any workplace,” Mr Strutton said.

“That is why our claim includes many issues including pensions; loss of license insurance; maternity benefits; allowances; and a fair, transparent, and consistent pay structure. We have made no progress with Ryanair management on any of those areas at all, seemingly because Ryanair management cannot understand how to go about working with us constructively, or how to negotiate. Ryanair has made no offer to BALPA in respect of its pilots.”

But in Ryanair's reply, Mr Hughes said UK-based pilots enjoyed salaries of up to £180,000 (€200,000) and contrasted this with struggling competitor airlines Jet2 and Norwegian, which had imposed pay freezes and unpaid leave on pilots.

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