Thursday 22 August 2019

Michael O'Leary denies describing pilots as 'overpaid under worked peacocks'

Michael O Leary of Ryanair pictured leaving the Four Courts today after giving evidence in a High Court action.Pic: Collins Courts
Michael O Leary of Ryanair pictured leaving the Four Courts today after giving evidence in a High Court action.Pic: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

RYANAIR chief executive Michael O'Leary has denied he once described pilots as "overpaid under worked peacocks".

He believes his airline's pilots enjoy the best of pay, conditions and security.

Ryanair pilots are paid €150,000 a year, work fixed 5-day on/4-day off rosters and put in an average of 18 hours flying time a week which are the envy other pilots in Europe, he told a High Court jury.

They also enjoy "the best job security of any pilot in Europe" as was shown by the collapses of Monarch and Air Berlin, many of whose pilots have applied to Ryanair, he said.

He denied however he had once told RTE broadcaster Ryan Tubridy that pilots are "overpaid under worked peacocks".  He had always been complimentary about Ryanair pilots though not about pilots from other airlines or about the trade union organisations they are involved in.

He said while he had been on the Late Late Show in 2012, he had not been interviewed by Ryan Tubridy in the recent past.

Comments he made to media following a Ryanair AGM about pilots were "critical of competitor pilots who seek to criticise Ryanair practices" but not of the company's own pilots "who work very hard".

He was under cross-examination for a second day in Ryanair's continuing defamation action against Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) founders Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy, claiming an RPG email of September 12, 2013, to 2,289 pilots was untrue and defamatory.  

The email was headed "Pilot Update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair" and stated the airline gave positive indications to investors the previous June which encouraged a share price increase followed up by a sell-off of shares by airline management.

This meant, Ryanair says, by innuendo or insinuation, that the airline misled investors, knowingly facilitated insider dealing, was guilty of market manipulation and had conspired with management to abuse the markets.

The defendants deny defamation and say the words complained of do not mean what Ryanair says. 

Mr O'Leary told counsel for the defendants, he accepted only 30 per cent of Ryanair pilots were directly employed in 2012.  He did not know if the other 70 per cent, who were on contracts, were not represented by the airline's own employee representative committees (ERCs) in negotiating pay and conditions, but thought contract pilots "may have had some input" into ERCs.

He disagreed he was derisive of trade union representatives but said he was an opponent of them.

He was shown a 2012 Ryanair statement which attacked the European Cockpit Association, an umbrella body for pilot unions, and repeatedly referred to it as the "European Cockup Association".  

Defence counsel put it to him that given there were 87 ERCs  at different airports, and only represented 30 per cent of pilots, this meant it was "divided into to 87 separate pieces and that amounts to no power of any description".

Mr O'Leary said that was completely untrue because  ERCs have delivered pay and conditions "which are the envy of every other pilot group across Europe".

Defence counsel said Ryanair effectively tried to fine pilots if they wanted to use trade unions to negotiate on their behalf when introducing a retraining programme to replace their 189-seater planes for their old 150-seat fleet.   Pilots were required to sign an agreement, within seven days, that they would repay the €15,000 cost of the training if they left the company within five years or if they breached the requirement on trade unions representation.

Mr O'Leary disagreed it was a fine and said the repayment term was not unusual and was perfectly reasonable.  "It is not a bribe, it is an incentive"

Defence counsel put it to him that he claimed to be indifferent as to whether pilots were union members or not but when a website was set up so that pilots could freely express views on matters of concern in Ryanair, the airline brought legal proceedings trying to find the names of every pilot who participated in that forum.

Mr O'Leary said there were people "masquerading under pseduonyms" on that website and "we took a case trying to identify a small number who had made threats against Ryanair pilots".

He disagreed it was a Ryanair tactic to "bring the big guns" against anyone who criticised Ryanair, whether through litigation or otherwise, and usually in Ireland.

Ryanair has a policy that where people make false claims about its safety record that it "will resort to court", he said.

The case continues.

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