Ryanair’s quarter horribilis, where one problem followed another

Airline says it will now recognise unions representing workers other than pilots

Ryanair’s decision to reverse its long-standing policy of not dealing with unions is rooted in the drama that followed the airline’s cancellation of thousands of flights in September. Photograph: Getty Images

Ryanair’s decision to reverse its long-standing policy of not dealing with unions is rooted in the drama that followed the airline’s cancellation of thousands of flights in September. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The final quarter of 2017 will be one Ryanair’s management will be happy to leave behind, starting as it did with a raft of flight cancellations and ending with a surprise recognition of trade unions.

Ryanair’s decision to reverse its long-standing policy of not dealing with unions is rooted in the drama that followed the airline’s cancellation of thousands of flights in September. That move hit more than 300,000 passengers, and left the airline with a €25 million compensation bill.

The problem was rooted in a mix-up over holiday rosters that stemmed from a change in the way in which pilots’ time off was allocated across the year. Ryanair ultimately ironed out the difficulty, although not before it decided to cancel further flights between November and March to guaranteed no problems.

However, the genie was out of the bottle by then. Pilots at the airline began campaigning for a new collective bargaining system to replace the employee representative councils that negotiate for staff at each Ryanair base.

Through November, as part of an orchestrated campaign, trade unions wrote to Ryanair and chief executive, Michael O’Leary, urging the company to begin talks with named pilots who made up the company councils in each organisation. The airline refused, and the groups began preparing for industrial action, beginning with Ialpa in Ireland.

Unions in Germany and Portugal quickly followed suit, while Spain’s pilots’ association indicated that it would take whatever legal steps were needed to do the same. Italy’s union Anpac had already threatened that Ryanair members would stop work for four hours last Friday, December 15th.

That turned out to be a historic day for Ryanair. Early that morning it wrote to the pilot unions offering to begin talks on recognising them. In a statement issued soon after that morning, O’Leary said the move was designed to avert strikes and ensure that passengers got their flights in the run up to Christmas.

Anpac called off the Italian stoppage, and the other strike threats faded one by one.

Meanwhile, Ryanair said it would recognise unions representing workers other than pilots, specifically cabin crew, removing a final barrier to what some say will be a “seminal change” at the airline.

That September genie is definitely not going back into its bottle.

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