Wednesday 18 September 2019

Anne-Marie Walsh: 'Good news for Ryanair holidaymakers but union now under pressure when it moves for strike action'


Losing battle: (left-right) Fórsa national secretary Angela Kirk, head of communications Bernard Harbor and general secretary Matt Staunton at the High Court, Dublin yesterday.
Photo: Gareth Chaney
Losing battle: (left-right) Fórsa national secretary Angela Kirk, head of communications Bernard Harbor and general secretary Matt Staunton at the High Court, Dublin yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Anne-Marie Walsh

Ryanair passengers got good and bad news yesterday. The good news came from the High Court after it granted the airline an injunction to block a 48-hour strike that was due to start today.

The bad news came from the High Court across the water later in the day as Ryanair lost a similar bid to block strikes by pilots due to take industrial action at the same time.

Ryanair and the UK pilots union Balpa were calling on each other to return to talks last night, but it didn't look like either was going to make the first move.

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The airline says it expects to run a full schedule in its biggest market today but admitted there may be some hiccups in the shape of small flight delays and changes.

Unlike the airline, legally entitled to seven days' notice of strikes, the latest shenanigans between itself and its pilots show passengers can end up getting little or none.

If the Irish court's decision had gone the other way, there would have been little time to let passengers know their flights were cancelled and begin to offer them alternatives.

And there was every indication industrial action was not going to end with today and tomorrow's strikes.

There was a very significant line in a Fórsa press release last week that said the pilots would notify the company of further strike days "in due course".

The Irish High Court's decision is a major victory for Ryanair which has been plagued by industrial action that spread across its European bases last year after it took the momentous decision to recognise unions.

It will clip the pilots' wings, after they largely got what they wanted in a dispute last year over seniority arrangements.

But it will also make the entire trade union movement think twice before threatening strikes that have the potential for massive public disruption. It will no doubt encourage more employers facing strike threats to venture down the legal route for a potentially swift and effective remedy.

Mr Justice Denis McDonald showed obvious concern for the travelling public yesterday in his decision to issue a ruling as early as he possibly could.

"This is very damaging for the union movement," said a source. "They will not be thanking Fórsa and the pilots. It means a higher test is now in place on the conduct of ballots for industrial action."

One insider predicted the pilots will return to mediation and are unlikely to be quick off the mark to threaten further strikes as the public may feel they have lost credibility. Ryanair's claims that some of them apparently earn €172,000 and are seeking "unrealistic" pay rises of up to 101pc will not help.

Unions will have to ensure they dot their i's and cross their t's when it comes to conducting ballots and ensuring they are clear on their agreements with employers.

In his decision, the judge said an issue had been raised by Ryanair about the validity of the union's strike ballot, The union had said that the ballot had been conducted in a proper manner, but Ryanair raised questions.

The judge said there was a lacuna or gap in the union's evidence.

Although he said he was not finding fault with the union, the evidential gap was there and the court had to apply what is clearly set down in statute.

Irish Independent

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