Monday 17 June 2019

Ryanair staff in Italy questioned over taxes

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary broke his silence yesterday. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary broke his silence yesterday. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Investigators for Italy's Ministry of Labour have door-stepped Ryanair pilots and cabin crew at the airline's biggest bases, near Milan and Rome, to probe them on matters such as how and where they pay their taxes.

Tuesday's probe comes just a week after Ryanair threatened pilots and cabin crew in Italy with pay cuts and promotion freezes if they went on strike.

Italian trade union Anpac had called a four-hour strike for last Friday by its Ryanair members.

However, the strike was called off after Ryanair said it would recognise unions.

But the threats made to Ryanair staff incensed Italian politicians and unions.

A spokesman for Anpac said that labour officials questioned both Ryanair pilots and cabin crew on Tuesday as they left crew rooms in the airline's biggest base, at Bergamo, about 40km from Milan.

Ryanair workers at the airline's second biggest Italian base, at Rome Ciampino, were also questioned.

The union spokesman could not yet determine how many staff had been questioned.

The Anpac spokesman told the Irish Independent that the staff were asked about a number of issues, such as where they pay their taxes, as well as the number of days off they received and other matters. Ryanair declined to comment.

Anpac, which said its members include almost half the 650 Ryanair pilots in Italy, is already in the process of recruiting Ryanair cabin crew.

The union spokesman also said that Anpac will sit down with Ryanair management on January 9.

The questioning of Ryanair staff in Italy came as the airline's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, insisted that he's not planning on leaving the company.

In an interview with news agency Reuters, Mr O'Leary - who's been notably absent from the media following Ryanair's September rostering debacle - broke his silence to defend his decision to recognise unions.

Mr O'Leary said the decision was his idea and that he would not step down.

But he also warned unions that he would not be a soft-touch and if they put forward unreasonable demands he would simply shift planes and jobs to other jurisdictions.

"This is not a ruse. This is serious," Mr O'Leary said of the decision, which he said was "in many respects my idea" and which he ran past the company's board of directors last Thursday night.

"But if someone is being unreasonable and we are being completely messed around by a union, we will still move aircraft away from that base or country," he said in the interview in his Dublin headquarters, flanked by his chief operations officer Peter Bellew and chief people officer Eddie Wilson, who are leading talks with unions.

Mr O'Leary rejected media speculation that he may step aside to make way for Mr Bellew, who left his position as chief executive of Malaysia Airlines last month and has been the face of Ryanair in recent days.

"Am I going to leave? No. I am going to stay," said Mr O'Leary.

The airline chief said union recognition would open new opportunities for Ryanair, allowing it to work in heavily-unionised countries such as France and Denmark.

The airline could move 50 planes to France - one eighth of its current 400-plane fleet - he said, although he said the speed of such a deployment would depend on the availability of planes and deals with airports.

Ryanair will still meet its target of flying 200 million passengers a year by 2024, up from just under 130 million this year, he said.

Mr O'Leary said the decision to recognise unions would not have an impact on the company's annual profit forecast and that he did not expect staff costs to increase beyond the extra €100m announced following the cancellation of 20,000 flights in September. (Additional reporting: Reuters)

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