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Sunday 22 September 2019

Ryanair passengers in anxious wait as bid to avert 48-hour strike drags on

Judgment on airline's injunction not expected until eve of threatened stoppage

Flight fight: Bernard Harbor and Matt Staunton of union Forsa
Flight fight: Bernard Harbor and Matt Staunton of union Forsa

Anne-Marie Walsh and Aoife Moore

Ryanair passengers due to fly later this week are in limbo as they wait to hear if their flights will take off amid the threat of a 48-hour strike.

They may not find out until the eve of the stoppage, from midnight on Thursday, as a High Court action to prevent the industrial action drags on.

The court is not expected to issue a judgment until tomorrow, after the airline sought an injunction to prevent the industrial action.

Around 180 members of the Irish Airline Pilots' Association plan to walk off the job on the same day as UK-based pilots in a dispute over demands for better pay and conditions.

A spokesperson for the Commission for Aviation Regulation said that, legally, passengers cannot seek refunds until the airline cancels the flights.

Ryanair did not respond to a request for comment when asked when it would begin cancelling flights.

Company sources promised "robust contingency" planning should the strikes go ahead so a minimal amount of flights would be cancelled.

The airline is seeking an order against Fórsa, the parent union of the Irish Airline Pilots' Association.

Ryanair argued in the High Court that balloted strike action by some of their pilots was unlawful. Fórsa is contesting the airline's application for an injunction.

Mr Justice Denis McDonald began hearing arguments yesterday from Ryanair's legal representative, Martin Hayden.

The airline claimed strike action would be in breach of an agreement both parties signed up to last summer.

The airline also argues Fórsa's ballot and subsequent notice of strike action was unlawful, and that the 2018 agreement is a "binding conclusion" and "over-arching".

Mr Hayden told the court Fórsa has not actually quantified what it is claiming, and Ryanair, although "not indisposed to making an offer", is prevented from doing so in the absence of such a request.

"To make a counter-offer you need to have something to counter," he said.

Mr Justice McDonald disagreed with this assertion, arguing this is not backed by mediator Kieran Mulvey in his report, but Ryanair's understanding of his report.

"I'm not asking for your understanding, I'm not seeing anything from Mr Mulvey saying Ryanair cannot make a counter-proposal without further information from Fórsa," Mr Justice McDonald said.

Mr Hayden said the "damaging strikes" would not only affect Ryanair as a company, but many customers.

"If I could say this, this is ultimately a pay request... that the go-to moment is a strike, it's a disproportionate response," he said.

Fórsa said 94pc of its members who took part in the vote chose to back a strike.

Only pilots directly employed by Ryanair took part in the ballot.

Those on agency contracts are not eligible to vote.

If strike action does go ahead, only those directly employed by Ryanair will take part and pilots on different contracts will continue to work as normal.

The hearing will resume this morning, but a judgment is not expected until tomorrow as Mr Justice McDonald predicted he would need to "reflect" on the matter.

The court will hear arguments from Fórsa's legal representatives today.

Meanwhile, the British Airline Pilots' Association said that because Ryanair has "wasted time with unnecessary court action", their chance to resolve the dispute has been lost. Ryanair is also seeking a High Court injunction tomorrow to stop strike action by its UK-based pilots.

Asked how may were booked onto flights on the Thursday and Friday of the strikes, a Ryanair spokesperson told the Irish Independent there was "nothing further to add".

Irish Independent

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