Thursday 15 November 2018

Being a Ryanair staff rep was a 'very dangerous thing', court hears

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Tim Healy

RYANAIR'S dismissal of a pilot in 2001 led others to believe that being a staff representative in the company was "a very dangerous thing", a former pilot being sued by the airline told the High Court.

That was the belief among pilots when the chairman of a pilots' representative committee was fired the year following a  proposed one-day strike which was called off at the last minute following negotiations,  John Goss said.

"It was described at the time as somebody having a machine gun firing it at hip level and everybody hitting the ground," Captain Goss said.

He was giving evidence in the ongoing hearing of the airline's action against him and fellow Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG)  interim council members, Evert Van Zwol and Ted Murphy, who deny defamation in an email the company says falsely inferred Ryanair misled the market.

Captn Goss, who first joined Ryanair a year after it was set up in 1985 and spent six years as its flight safety officer, said negotiations between pilots and management were relatively amicable up until 2000 when there was a threat of a one-day strike.

In 2001, chairman of the then representative committee, Martin Duffy, was fired over an incident that year.  The court heard Mr Duffy will be giving evidence in relation to the circumstances of that dismissal.

Captn Goss said in 2004 a new issue arose after Ryanair told pilots they would be retrained to fly bigger planes and the €15,000 training cost would be borne by the company once it did not have to deal with any trade union or if the pilot left the company within five years.  The company asked pilots based in Stansted, London, to come to Dublin for training.

Captn Goss said this clause about the cost of training, along with one about eventual redundancy for those who did not retrain, put "great fear" into pilots and a claim was made over it to the Labour Court. 

Then, over Christmas 2004, Captn Goss was ordered to a disciplinary meeting alleging he had made intimidating phone calls to Stansted pilots about coming to Dublin.   This was completely untrue, an attack on his good name and made for a "highly stressful Christmas" for himself and his wife. he said.

When Ryanair was not happy with his responses from the first meeting they had after Christmas, there was a second meeting, at the end of which the parties shook hands.

Captn Goss heard nothing for a couple of weeks and due to the stress he had been through decided to go with his wife on two weeks annual leave.  Before he left, he signed a document at a meeting with HR manager Darrell Hughes to repay an allowance he had been continuing to receive in error from the company for a year for his former flight safety officer position.

On the first Monday of his holiday, he learned of a letter sent the previous Friday telling him he was to attend another disciplinary hearing the following day (Tuesday).  When he returned from holiday, he took legal proceedings over this latest disciplinary attempt which, the court heard, were later settled.

In 2007, he made a decision, due to weather conditions, that refuelling and boarding of passengers at the same time on one of his flights could not be carried out due to safety concerns. This led to a delay in the flight. 

He was warned by Ryanair to "follow procedures, conduct myself in the future and not delay flights".   Concerned that Ryanair's reaction was to try to over-ride his responsibility as a captain, he wrote to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) which acknowledged his report but did nothing further, he said.

In 2008, elections to the ERC did not take place after Captn Goss and three others were nominated to stand for three places.

When pilots themselves tried to organise an election themselves and Captn Goss put information about it into pilots' pigeon holes in the crew room, he was suspended for two weeks for using company property without its permission. 

He was dismissed in 2013 over comments he made on a Channel 4 TV programme criticising the IAA, but not Ryanair, which the airline is separately suing him over. 

He is counter-suing Ryanair over allegedly defamatory comments at a press conference in Sweden following the TV programme.

The case goes into its fifth week next Tuesday.

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