Ryanair boss denies calling pilots ‘overpaid under worked peacocks’

Michael O’Leary says airline’s pilots the ‘envy’ of other pilots in Europe

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary has denied before the High Court that he described pilots as "overpaid under-worked peacocks".

He also denied it was a Ryanair tactic to "bring the big guns" against anyone who criticised Ryanair, whether through litigation or otherwise, and usually in Ireland.

Ryanair’s policy is that, where people make false claims about its safety record, it “will resort to court”, he said.

Ryanair pilots, he said, enjoy the best of pay, conditions and security, are paid €150,000 a year, work fixed five-day on four-day off rosters and put in an average of 18 hours flying time a week which are the "envy" of other pilots in Europe.

They enjoy "the best job security of any pilot in Europe", as was shown by the collapses of Monarch and Air Berlin, many of whose pilots have applied to Ryanair, he also said.

He denied he had told RTÉ broadcaster Ryan Tubridy that pilots are "overpaid under-worked peacocks".

He said he had always been complimentary about Ryanair pilots but not about pilots from other airlines or the trade union organisations they are involved in.

‘Work very hard’

While he had appeared on the Late Late Show in 2012, he had not been interviewed by Tubridy in the recent past, he said.

Comments by him about pilots to media following a Ryanair agm were “critical of competitor pilots who seek to criticise Ryanair practices” but not of the company’s own pilots “who work very hard”, he said.

Mr O'Leary was under cross-examination in Ryanair's continuing action against Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) founders Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy. The airline claims an RPG email of September 12th, 2013, to 2,289 pilots was untrue and defamatory.

The email was headed “Pilot Update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair” and stated the airline gave positive indications to investors the previous June which encouraged a share price increase followed up by a sell-off of shares by airline management.

Ryanair claims the email meant, by innuendo or insinuation, the airline misled investors, knowingly facilitated insider dealing, was guilty of market manipulation and had conspired with management to abuse the markets.

The defendants deny defamation and say the words complained of do not mean what Ryanair says.

Contract pilots

On Wednesday, Mr O’Leary told Paul O’Higgins SC, for the defendants, he accepted only 30 per cent of Ryanair pilots were directly employed in 2012.

He did not know if the other 70 per cent, who were on contracts, were not represented by the airline’s employee representative committees (ERCs) in negotiating pay and conditions, but he thought contract pilots “may have had some input” into ERCs.

He disagreed he was derisive of trade union representatives but said he was an opponent of them.

He was shown a 2012 Ryanair statement which attacked the European Cockpit Association, an umbrella body for pilot unions, and repeatedly referred to it as the "European Cock-up Association".

Mr Higgins put to him, as there were 87 ERCs at different airports representing just 30 per cent of pilots, this meant it was “divided into to 87 separate pieces and that amounts to no power of any description”.

Mr O’Leary said that was “completely untrue” and said ERCs have delivered pay and conditions “the envy of every other pilot group across Europe”.

Mr O’Higgins said Ryanair had effectively tried to “fine” pilots if they wanted to use trade unions to negotiate on their behalf when it was introducing a retraining programme to replace 189-seater planes for their old 150-seat fleet. Pilots were required to sign an agreement, within seven days, they would repay the €15,000 cost of the training if they left the company within five years or if they breached the requirement on trade unions representation.

‘Perfectly reasonable’

Mr O’Leary disagreed it was a “fine” and said the repayment term was not unusual and was “perfectly reasonable”. “It is not a bribe, it is an incentive”.

Mr O’Higgins put to him he claimed to be indifferent as to whether pilots were union members or not but when a website was set up so pilots could freely express views on matters of concern in Ryanair, the airline brought legal proceedings trying to find the names of every pilot who participated in that forum.

Mr O’Leary said there were people “masquerading under pseudonyms” on that website and “we took a case trying to identify a small number who had made threats against Ryanair pilots”.

The case continues.