High Court rejects Ryanair bullying claim

A High Court judge has rejected claims by Ryanair that its pilots or their unions had engaged in bullying, intimidation or isolation…

A High Court judge has rejected claims by Ryanair that its pilots or their unions had engaged in bullying, intimidation or isolation of other pilots over conditions imposed by Ryanair relating to training on new aircraft.

The only evidence of bullying was by Ryanair itself, Mr Justice Thomas Smyth stated yesterday. He described as "most onerous and bordering on oppression" a condition requiring pilots to pay Ryanair €15,000 for training on new aircraft in 2004. The €15,000 was payable by pilots if they left the company within five years or if Ryanair was required to engage in collective bargaining within the same period.

In a strongly worded reserved judgment, the judge dismissed a bid by the private airline for orders aimed at identifying pilots who posted messages under codenames, such as "ihateryanair" and "cantfly, wontfly" on a pilots' website. Ryanair had claimed the messages showed evidence of wrongful activity against it and its employees.

The judge also made a finding of false evidence in relation to two members of Ryanair management who had given evidence at the hearing. He held that, when Ryanair set up an investigation to find out who was behind the website, the real purpose of that investigation was to "break the resolve" of pilots to seek better terms and conditions. There was no warrant for Ryanair's action in seeking assistance from gardaí on the matter, he added.


He rejected as "baseless and false" the evidence of Ryanair director of personnel Eddie Wilson in relation to the setting up the investigation. The judge also said there was no conspiracy in relation to the setting up of the website and it was not engaged in anything unlawful. There was "no actionable
wrong", he held, and dismissed Ryanair's application.

The issue of who will pay the ubstantial costs of the hearing will be decided later. Ryanair had sought a number of orders against Neil Johnston, an official with the trade union Impact, the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (Ialpa) and its British counterpart, Balpa.

The airline contended the defendants had a duty to identify persons identified by codenames on the Ryanair European Pilots' Association (Repa) website. It claimed the website was established and controlled by Ialpa and Balpa, which was denied by both associations. Ryanair also sought an order requiring the defendants to disclose all information within their knowledge or procurement relating to threats, intimidation and harassment of Ryanair pilots.

The proceedings arose from concerns by pilots about the conditions set by Ryanair in 2004 relating to flying new 737-800 aircraft. The judge said he was satisfied it was the changes in conditions that gave rise to the industrial unrest in 2004. He said pilots were offered training to convert to flying 737-800 aircraft.

Under the terms, they had to fund the €15,000 cost of training themselves. Payment of this would be deferred if they stayed with the firm for five years. However, it would be due immediately if pilots left the company or if Ryanair was compelled to engage in collective bargaining with the pilots' association or a trade union within five years.

"This was a most onerous condition and bears all the hallmarks of oppression," the judge said.
Mr Justice Smyth said he found Capt John Gale, one of a number of pilots subpoenaed by Ryanair to give evidence and who had denied claims of intimidation by pilots, to be a truthful witness.

The judge said he found that Capt Gale was in no way cold-shouldered by pilots and had received no intimidation. The judge said he was satisfied that whoever put about the rumour that Capt Gale was accusing another senior pilot, Capt John Goss, of disloyalty to Ryanair had done so without any basis whatsoever.

The judge also said he considered the evidence of Warwick Brady (who gave evidence for
Ryanair and who was with management based at Stansted airport in 2004) in relation to an alleged warning to Capt Gale by Capt Goss to be false evidence.

Referring to Capt Andrew Walters, another pilot subpoenaed by Ryanair and who denied being intimidated by any pilot in relation to taking up a post in Dublin, the judge said he was satisfied Capt Walters had had no conversation on the telephone with Capt Goss, as alleged by Ryanair.

He found Capt Walters to be truthful and reliable, and noted that the pilot had told the court he had never felt intimidated, isolated or threatened in relation to taking up the Dublin post.