Ryanair’s director of human resources strategy and operations has rejected claims the airline’s pilot representative system for negotiating pay and conditions was a “sham”.
The "employee representative committee" (ERC) system within the airline involves two to five pilots at each of Ryanair's bases around Europe meeting HR department representatives and negotiating five-year collective deals in the same way as in most negotiations, Darrell Hughes told the High Court.
"They are certainly not a sham," he said on the fifth day of Ryanair's action against three founders of the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy, over alleged defamation in a RPG statement issued in 2013 which Ryanair claims falsely said the company misled investors. The three deny the claims.
On the fifth day of the action before Mr Justice Bernard Barton and a jury, Mr Hughes was replying to questions from Ryanair counsel Thomas Hogan.
Counsel asked him about claims made in RPG correspondence in 2013 to its members that Ryanair management continued to spread misleading information about these local ERC pay agreements. The RPG claimed they were a sham designed to circumvent pilots’ bargaining rights.
Mr Hughes said they were not a sham or misleading and were like any negotiation where there are two sides seeking different things usually meet in the middle.
Earlier, he said the RPG, from its inception in 2012, regularly made statements about industrial relations and there were many disparaging comments about Ryanair management.
However, after some 15 local ERC agreements had been voted through by pilots in April 2013, the RPG’s “focus of attack” moved from industrial relations to issues of safety, he said. They sought to get pilots to sign up to a safety incident reporting system.
This then evolved into an attack on financial prudence, he said.
Directly employed pilots
Mr Hughes said it was the case that only directly employed pilots could vote on the ERC agreements because the contracted pilots are sourced through agencies which negotiate directly with Ryanair as to pay and terms and conditions.
In 2013, the breakdown of directly employed to contractors was 70/30 and today it was nearer 50/50, he said.
Those on contracts are paid by flying hours and they are generally younger people who prefer that because of the difference in tax treatment between the two categories means contractors can help pay for the high cost of their pilot training. Contractors are more flexible and agree to be posted at other airports for one in every four “flying blocks”.
Directly employed pilots are generally people who are more settled and Ryanair’s family-friendly rosters mean they can usually be home in their own beds each night, something not available in other airlines, he said.
The difference in pay between directly employed and contractors “varies from base to base” but in some cases contractors got more than direct employees and in others less.
When it came to negotiating terms and conditions, with the exception perhaps of Premiership footballers, pilots were a “totally mobile” group of workers who do not have the same visa restrictions as the rest of us and can go and work in northwest China at more than €20,000 a month, he said. If Ryanair wants to attract them, it must provide good pay and conditions, he said.
The case continues.