Representation at heart of Ryanair row

No political appetite to change the status quo on employee representation

Rights to representation and collective bargaining lie at the bottom of the current wave of unrest amongst Ryanair’s pilots. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Rights to representation and collective bargaining lie at the bottom of the current wave of unrest amongst Ryanair’s pilots. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

 

The Irish Constitution guarantees workers the right to join unions, but it does not guarantee them the right to have their employer recognise their union for collective bargaining.

Rights to representation and collective bargaining lie at the bottom of the current wave of unrest amongst Ryanair’s pilots. At least some of them want a form of collective bargaining other than the one that the company offers through its employee representative councils, which act for workers at each of its 87 bases.

A new group, called the European Employee Representative Council, wants the company to deal collectively with pilots at a regional level, rather than base-by-base. Ryanair is refusing to deal with the organisation.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary recently pointed out that the company’s position has always been that it does not stop people from joining unions, but that as it is not obliged to deal with them, it does not do so. Instead it uses its employee representative councils, which it points out have been approved by the Supreme Court.

Change the law

Ultimately, the only way to change this would be to change the law. However, that could be constitutionally difficult – employers have rights too. Besides, while governments here broadly support employee representation, there is no political appetite to change the status quo.

In Ryanair’s case, it would require changing the law across the EU. Brussels now makes the rules that protect workers’ rights, but neither has it ever sought to enforce across-the-board trade union recognition, and that is unlikely to change.

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