Challenged by strikes in the UK and Spain, caught in failed mediation rounds in Ireland, left by the COO who was hired specifically to help with the transition to a unionized company, and suing their own pilots for their decisions as union representatives.
In this context, shareholders will be evaluating Ryanair’s actual progress on improving labor relations.
Two years after the company pledged to “reward and interact” with its pilots and cabin crew, the labor unrest has not yet settled. Despite agreements signed with several unions, after protracted negotiations, Ryanair seems to be lacking a clear long-term strategy on how to create a genuine culture of social dialogue with its employees.
“Unionisation was not imposed on the airline, it was management’s choice,” says ECA Secretary General Philip von Schöppenthau. “It was also a choice to set an ambitious target to become a socially responsible employer. But when Ryanair pledged this, they raised the expectations of their own employees. And today, two years later, from their perspective, Ryanair has failed to deliver. The company is still far, far away from anything like stable labour relations across its network and from lasting industrial peace.”
European pilots are concerned that Ryanair may be reverting to its old ‘habits’. Ten Irish union representatives, all Ryanair pilots, are being sued in Court for alleged damages. At the same time, Ryanair is resorting to base closures and potential job cuts every time a strike is announced. And Buzz, Ryanair’s new subsidiary in Poland, is being set up as an airline designed to be union-free, by using a large majority of supposedly self-employed pilots and cabin crew, hired through a broker agency, Warsaw Aviation.
“93% of all self-employment in European aviation is actually fake, according to a recent study by the European Commission,” says ECA Vice-President Otjan de Bruijn. “It is quite a risky business decision that – in times of intense scrutiny of self-employment – you would set up an entire company relying on allegedly self-employed workers. What are the chances that in the medium-term it would not be challenged by authorities at national and EU level? Just look at the recent Irish government decision to crack-down on bogus self-employment in Ireland – and Poland won’t stay a safe haven for such practices.”
Pilots are also worried that a ‘fear-culture’ at Ryanair may be making a comeback.
“We are receiving increasing reports that pilot union representatives feel that the pre-2017 anti-union management approach and fear-culture are coming back,” continues Otjan de Bruijn. “And suing union representatives in Court for wanting to exercise their basic right to strike just reinforces this perception. But when union representatives start feeling intimidated and fear for their continued employment, then this is a clear indicator as to where management-employee relations seem to be heading for.”
“It is a gross miscalculation that industrial unrest will simply settle down on its own and without a true transformation across the entire network,” says Secretary General Philip von Schöppenthau. “With its confrontational approach and the base closures that spread fear among its employees, Ryanair is undermining itself as an attractive employer. For an airline with significant growth plans, this is a particularly risky strategy.”