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Tuesday 20 August 2019

Thousands of Ryanair passengers to be  hit as Irish-based pilots also vow to strike

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Anne-Marie Walsh and John Mulligan

Tens of thousands of Ryanair passengers are facing major disruption after the airline's Irish-based unionised pilots voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action.

Barring any last-minute deal over the weekend between the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (Ialpa) and Ryanair, the union is set to serve the airline with notice of action early next week.

With the summer season still under way, and the end of the school holidays looming, Ryanair operates as many as 230 flights a day in and out of Dublin alone.

When full, those flights could be carrying a total of about 43,000 passengers, who would face chaos in the event of a 24-hour strike.

The airline insisted that the threat of industrial action "has no mandate from Ryanair pilots" and that it is "ill-timed" with Brexit just weeks away.

Ialpa, which operates under the umbrella of trade union Fórsa, must give Ryanair seven days' notice of any industrial action. That means strikes could occur as early as Tuesday week - the same day UK Ryanair pilots who are members of the British Airline Pilots' Association are set to walk off the job for 48 hours. The UK pilots are also poised to stage a strike for three days beginning on September 2.

"Fórsa should continue in mediation and avoid threatening unnecessary disruptions to customers holidays and travel plans," Ryanair said.

The stoppages, coupled with any action in Ireland, will heap pressure on the airline and play havoc with travellers including families returning from holidays, or going on them before the new school year begins.

The action also comes just weeks before Ryanair's annual general meeting in September, with investors having already seen shares in the airline tumble since earlier this year.

They fell to a fresh multi-year low yesterday.

Ryanair's profits have been hit by lower fares as well as higher payroll and fuel costs.

The delay in the return of the Boeing 737 Max jet to service around the world also prompted chief executive Michael O'Leary to warn staff last week that the airline may have to axe as many as 900 jobs, including 500 pilots.

Ialpa has given the airline a Monday deadline to accept its demands for improvements to pay and a range of terms and conditions including maternity leave benefits. The union says it represents 180 of the airline's directly employed pilots. It submitted a pay claim in late March this year seeking pay levels and terms and conditions that it says are in line with norms across the airline industry.

In a statement, it said the airline was in a healthy financial position and could fairly reward its pilots after posting profits of €1bn last year.

But Ryanair railed against the ballot outcome, insisting only half of its Ireland-based pilots are union members and that just 60pc of those took part in the ballot.

"The pay deals agreed with Fórsa have delivered pay increases of up to 20pc at a time when Ryanair profits are falling due to higher fuel and payroll costs, with senior captains now earning over €200,000 per annum," it said.

Fórsa assistant general secretary Ian McDonnell said industrial action at Ryanair could be avoided if management at the airline "engaged professionally and constructively in talks".

He said Ryanair sought costings of the union's claim and then failed to provide the operational information needed to make the calculations.

"They [pilots] feel they have been forced into contemplating potentially disruptive industrial action by a company that seems either unwilling or unable to negotiate in a professional and constructive manner," insisted Mr McDonnell.

Ryanair insisted that, last week, Fórsa gave an undertaking to mediator Kieran Mulvey that it would return to mediation next week with specific pay proposals, "which they have failed to provide either to Ryanair or Kieran Mulvey for over six months now".

Last week, Qatar Airways raced to capitalise on Ryanair's plans to cut pilot jobs, holding a recruitment day in Dublin.

Irish Independent

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