Case thrown out as judge finds pilots bullied more by airline than by each other
BUDGET airline chiefs were left with red faces yesterday after a judge threw out a case brought by the low-fares carrier.
High Court judge Mr Justice Thomas Smyth dismissed Ryanair's action and said the only evidence of bullying was by Ryanair.
The airline had taken the case to find out who was behind anonymous messages on its pilots' website.
But Mr Justice Smyth said he was satisfied there were no threats or intimidation of the type claimed by Ryanair from its pilots and its unions.
There was further embarrassment as the judge also made a finding of false evidence in relation to two Ryanair managers who had given evidence.
To further add to the airline's headaches, it could find itself left with a massive legal bill as the pilots' associations it brought to court seek the costs of the five-day action.
The judge was also critical of the way in which the airline went about making its pilots pay for flying lessons.
He found there was no evidence of bullying, intimidation or isolation against the pilots' associations in the case, and said the only evidence of bullying was by Ryanair.
Mr Justice Smyth said there was no conspiracy in setting up the pilots website and it was not engaged in anything unlawful. He was satisfied it was changes in conditions which gave rise to the industrial unrest at Ryanair.
He also said that fairness did not come into Ryanair's dealings with the pilots in the case.
They had been offered training to convert to flying 737-800 aircraft. The pilots had to fund the ?15,000 cost of training themselves, but payment was deferred if they stayed with the firm for five years.
But payment would be due immediatedly, Ryanair said in a letter in November 2004, if they left the firm or if Ryanair was compelled to engage in collective bargaining with the pilots' assssociation or a trade union within five years.
"This was a most onerous condition and bears all the hallmarks of oppression," he said.
The judge rejected as "baseless and false" the evidence of Ryanair director of personnel Eddie Wilson in relation to the setting up of the investigation.
The judge said he considered the evidence of Warwick Bady, who at the time was with Ryanair management and based at Stansted Airport, to be false. This evidence was in relation to an alleged warning to pilot Captain John Gale by another senior pilot, Captain John Goss.
Ryanair had gone to court to find out the identity of those people who go under the code names 'ihateryanair'; 'cantfly-wontfly' and others on the Ryanair European Pilots Association (REPA) website.
The website was set up two years ago to give "an anonymous and secure way for Ryanair pilots throughout Europe to communicate with each other".
Ryanair sought a number of orders against Neil Johnston, an official with the trade union IMPACT; the Irish Airline Pilots Association; and its British counterpart, BALPA.
It claimed the website was established by and was controlled by IALPA and BALPA and it sought an order requiring the disclosure of all information within their knowledge relating to threats, intimidations and harassment of Ryanair pilots.
Ryanair claimed unknown persons allegedly known to the defendants were engaged in a concerted process of intimidation, bullying, harassment and criminal activity designed to dissuade pilots from taking up positions with a new aircraft fleet.
Yesterday, in a two-hour long judgment, Mr Justice Smyth said when Ryanair set up the investigation to find out who was behind the website, the real purpose was to "break the resolve" of the captains to seek better terms and conditions. There was, he said, no warrant for seeking assistance from the gardai on the matter.
Mr Justice Thomas Smyth said he found Mr Gale to be a truthful witness and found as fact that he was in no way cold-shouldered by pilots and that he received no intimidation.
The judge said he was satisfied that whoever set about the rumour that Mr Gale was accusing Mr Goss of disloyalty to Ryanair did so without any basis whatsoever. Referring to Captain Andrew Walters, the judge said Mr Walters had told the court he had never felt intimidated or threatened in relation to the taking up of a position in Dublin. The judge found the facts according to Mr Walters' evidence.