Ryanair is facing legal claims from unions for allegedly violating labour laws during a row with striking workers, as the airline faces a new round of industrial action that could affect its low-cost business model.
Ryanair pilots in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden are due to hold 24-hour strikes on Friday over terms and conditions. The airline has cancelled about 400 flights as a result.
Ryanair faces renewed pressure from unhappy workers after it agreed to recognise trade unions for pilots and cabin crew in December – something the chief executive, Michael O’Leary, had previously said he would rather cut off his hands than agree to. Strikes were partly to blame for profits falling in the first quarter of its financial year.
But after making deals with unions in countries including the UK and Italy, the airline has failed to engage with workers, unions claim. Pilots and cabin crew have responded with a string of strikes seeking better terms and conditions. Cabin staff in Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain walked out for 48 hours last month.
Until recently, Ryanair was able to divide its workforce by striking different deals across the countries it flies between.
Ryanair responded to strikes in Ireland by issuing redundancy notices to 300 staff in Dublin last month and shifting some planes from Ireland to Poland. Soon afterward, O’Leary said: “If we have people who just want to have strikes for the sake of having strikes then they can have strikes and they’ll find themselves with jobs getting moved and aircraft getting moved.”
Unions have alleged Ryanair is using other tactics to deter workers from striking. While most EU countries allow companies to dock pay from striking staff, union sources said Ryanair threatened to strip crew of productivity bonuses and warned that their promotion chances would be affected, which would be in breach of labour laws. The Independent Transport Workers Federation (ITF), an umbrella body for trade unions, said Ryanair could be hit with lawsuits for allegedly breaching labour laws in several countries.
“Unions in countries directly affected by all the latest actions against Ryanair workers are pursuing a mixture of legal claims and investigations with the appropriate government agencies,” said ITF’s general secretary, Stephen Cotton. “They are having to claim once again that Ryanair are infringing their members’ fundamental rights in breach of labour laws in their country.”