Give Me A Crash Course In ... Ryanair strikes

The ballot allows for one-day and two-day stoppages, so further strikes are likely

Ryanair pilots, who are members of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association, on picket duty at Dublin airport during a one-day strike at the airline. Photograph: Conor Healy

Ryanair pilots, who are members of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association, on picket duty at Dublin airport during a one-day strike at the airline. Photograph: Conor Healy

 

Why did Ryanair pilots strike on Thursday?

The dispute is over seniority, which embraces such things as the airports where pilots are based, promotion, leave allocation and other issues tied to length of service. Members of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) – part of trade union Forsa – want a transparent system for managing this. Ryanair says that it has already proposed solutions to all those problems to the union and offered to meet numerous times since January to discuss them. However, as the company wanted to meet at its head office in Swords, Co Dublin, rather than on neutral ground, as the pilots demanded, the two sides didn’t meet until this week, when it was too late to stop the strike.

Doesn’t Ryanair refuse to deal with unions?

Up to last December, that was the case, but the airline agreed to recognise trade pilot and cabin crew trade unions shortly before Christmas to avert strikes in Ireland, Italy, Germany and elsewhere. Since then Ryanair has agreed recognition deals with pilot unions in the UK and Italy, but not in the Republic, where wrangling over a talks venue slowed progress. Thursday’s strike was its first by Irish-based pilots.

Why is seniority so important?

Pilots, like everyone else, want to take holidays when school is off. So there is competition for certain bases and leave days. Managing that involves having a system that is transparent and – as one source puts it – “equally unfair to everyone”.

Will there be more strikes at Ryanair?

Ialpa’s ballot allows for a series of one-day and two-day stoppages, so further strikes are likely unless the issue is resolved. VC, the German pilots’ union, is balloting its members for industrial action. The British Airline Pilots’ Association has submitted a pay claim to the company, opening potential grounds for a dispute. Cabin crew unions in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Belgium are planning one-day industrial actions later this month.

Did Thursday’s strike ground many Ryanair flights?

No. The airline cancelled only 30 of 290 flights, but said it was able to re-accommodate most of the 5,000 or so customers affected. All those services were on Ireland-UK routes that Ryanair operates frequently, so it was able to offer travellers alternatives. All flights to Europe took off as scheduled, so Ryanair was able to say that it ensured no-one’s holidays were disrupted as a result of the strike.

How was it able to do this when its pilots were striking?

Only 100 or so of its 350 Irish-based pilots are in Ialpa. The rest are not in the union and thus had to work as normal. Ryanair said that some of the other 250 or so pilots volunteered to work on their day off, so it was able to minimise the disruption.

Why are so many pilots not in the union?

Only directly-employed Ryanair pilots are in Ialpa. Most of the others have contracts that class them as self-employed. This creates a legal difficulty for any union trying to recruit those contractors, because a group of sole traders getting together to collectively negotiate such things as rates of pay could potentially be classed as a cartel, which is contrary to Irish and European competition law.

How long could the Irish pilots’ dispute last?

No-one knows. Ryanair and Ialpa seem to agree that a working group from both sides is the best way to tackle the seniority issue, but they are fighting over the terms of reference. Nevertheless, all industrial disputes get resolved in the end.

BARRY O’HALLORAN