Ryanair is bracing today for another strike by staff as walkouts in six European countries, mainly cabin crew, force flight cancellations that will disrupt the plans of more than 40,000 travellers.
Europe’s largest low-cost carrier has faced a string of strikes since it recognised trade unions for the first time in December, damaging bookings and forcing it to consider cutting short-term growth plans if labour unrest continues.
Cabin crews in Germany, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, as well as pilots in Germany, served Ryanair strike notices of the 24-hour walkout, stepping up pressure in talks over pay and conditions.
Ryanair initially cancelled 150 flights due to what it said was an unnecessary strike by a “tiny minority of cabin crew”. The carrier said on Thursday it expected up to 100 more to be cancelled after German pilots said they would join the protest.
The cancellations account for around 10 percent of its 2,400 scheduled flights on Friday.
The action in some of Ryanair’s largest markets will be its second biggest one-day strike after some 55,000 customers were affected in August when pilots in five European countries walked out at the height of the summer holiday season.
The Irish airline says it has made significant progress in recent weeks in negotiations, including reaching collective labour agreements with staff in Ireland, Britain, Italy and Germany.
“These strikes show that, despite its recent rhetoric, Ryanair has a long way to go before it enjoys sustainable industrial relations,” Gabriel Mocho Rodriguez, civil aviation secretary at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), said in a statement.
“You cannot claim negotiations are going well when workers in six countries on your network decide to take simultaneous strike action,” he added.
Last Wednesday the European Commission had ordered Ryanair to respect EU rules by giving workers contracts in the country they live rather than in Ireland where its planes are registered.
Europe’s largest low-cost carrier has traditionally employed a significant proportion of its staff under Irish law, which unions say inconveniences staff and impedes them from accessing local social security benefits.
After a meeting with European Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said the demand was “irrelevant” as the company had already written to unions in all EU countries offering to move staff to local contracts.
Since announcing in December last year it would recognise trade unions for the first time in its 30-year history, Ryanair has accelerated a shift from Irish to local contracts as part of recognition talks with various unions.
But the unions have held a series of strikes in recent months, citing disagreements over terms, including in several cases the question of local contracts.
At a meeting in Brussels, Commissioner Thyssen told O’Leary that EU rules on employment for mobile air crews were clear – based not on the flag of the aircraft, but the place where workers left in the morning and returned in the evening.
“Respecting the law is not something over which workers should have to negotiate and not something that can be postponed to a later date,” Thyssen said in a statement.
In response, Ryanair published the terms of its offer to staff, including an offer of local contracts.
“The issue of applicable law is irrelevant in Ryanair’s case since Ryanair has already written to the unions in Belgium (and all other EU countries) offering to agree the implementation of local (Belgium) law, social taxes and court jurisdiction by agreement with the national unions,” O’Leary said in a statement.
Belgian union CNE said the airline had agreed to follow local employment law, but only from March 2020 and that this change would only affect about half of its workers.
Ryanair on Wednesday also said it had submitted a complaint to the European Commission citing “anti-competitive behaviours” over the fact that employees of other airlines were involved in calling strikes in several countries across Europe.
It called on the Commision to investigate the “collective campaign,” which it said included the European Cockpit Association and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
“Ryanair’s business is being damaged by unnecessary strikes and disruptive interference in our bona fide union negotiations, promoted and coordinated by competitor airline employees, their unions and lobby groups,” the airline said in a statement.
Unions have said union members from other airlines have been assisting Ryanair staff due to the fact that they have a number of years of experience in dealing with union negotiations while most Ryanair staff have very little.