Court told Ryanair refused to accept ‘yes under duress’ vote by pilots

Former Ryanair pilot gives evidence in defamation action by Ryanair

Ryanair refused to accept a vote from pilots at Charleroi airport in Belgium as being a "yes under duress" vote on a pay and conditions deal, the High Court has been told.

Former Ryanair pilot Jean Francois Clase, in evidence in Ryanair's continuing defamation action against three founding members of the Ryanair Pilots Group (RPG), said the airline refused to accept a majority vote of "yes under duress" for the Charleroi base in a 2015 pay and conditions agreement.

It was the second time a vote was carried out after most pilots at the base were very unhappy with the deal being put forward, he said.

Captain Clase said he and two other members of the employee representative committee (ERC) at Charleroi had in the end agreed with Ryanair management the vote had to be just “yes” because if not management said it would not accept a conditional vote and would regard the vote as a rejection of the deal.

“We had to, we were going nowhere,” he said.

Captain Clase said, despite having already had two votes in which a majority of the 49 or so pilots either rejected the agreement or accepted it “under duress”, the ERC members were not going to have a third vote.

He said management had warned not only would proposed pay increases not be given, but the pilots at Charleroi would immediately lose their more favourable five-day on, four-day off roster arrangement and have it replaced with an older five-day/three-day arrangement among other things.

He said the ERC had asked for more time to conduct proper consultations with the pilots, but Ryanair refused.

Same deal

Captain Clase said after the first rejection vote in early 2015, Ryanair chief operations manager Peter Bellew addressed a "town hall" meeting of pilots at the base where the same deal was again put to the pilots.

The ERC reps had suggested, rather than a town hall meeting, the ERC would directly contact pilots with whatever new proposals the company had in circumstances where many pilots would be unable to attend because of work or leave. Nevertheless, Ryanair went ahead with the town hall meeting, he said.

Captain Clase said afterwards, with Ryanair insisting on a March 1st deadline for acceptance of the deal, the ERC had to arrange another vote. The majority still voted yes but this time stating it was “under duress”.

Earlier, Captain Clase said he worked at Hahn (Frankfurt), Madrid and Charleroi for Ryanair. The first time he was involved in a vote for ERC reps was in Charleroi when he and two other colleagues were voted by both directly employed and contracted pilots at the base to represent the pilots. Despite writing to Ryanair saying they were representing all pilots at Charleroi, the company wrote back and told them they could only represent those directly employed and provided a list of those eligible to vote on any deal.

Yearly allowance

Captain Clase said the airline also insisted the ERC reps had also to be health and safety reps at the base, which was not what the ERC reps believed they had been elected to do. While they received a yearly allowance of €635 for their ERC roles, they were refused time off to perform their duties and were told by Ryanair they should be able to do so outside working hours.

Ryanair is suing RPG interim council members Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy over a September 2013 email which the airline says falsely inferred the company misled the market. The three deny the email, headed "Pilot Update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair", was defamatory.

The hearing continues before a jury and Mr Justice Bernard Barton.