Q&A: What’s happening with the Ryanair strike?

Airline says in surprise move it will recognise trade unions in bid to head off strike action

 Ryanair aircraft at   Rome’s Ciampino airport. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Ryanair aircraft at Rome’s Ciampino airport. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images


What has Ryanair announced?

The airline said in a surprise move early on Friday that it would recognise trade unions in a bid to head off threatened strike action next week. A one-day stoppage by some pilots on December 20th could have caused significant disruption to passengers in the run up to Christmas.

Why is this significant?

Ryanair has previously had a very strict policy of not negotiating with trade unions. Its boss Michael O’Leary and the trade union movement in Ireland have, over the years, viewed each other with what could most kindly be called mutual disdain.

The company up to now has used an internal structure - known as local-based employee councils - for dealing with staff. Terms and conditions were negotiated locally in the airline’s various bases across Europe.

However, unions have always argued these local councils were “management-controlled”.

Why has Ryanair changed its policy now?

Ryanair has been under pressure for some weeks now, first over a fiasco over rostering which led to thousands of flight cancellations and then by the growing demands for reforms to the current arrangements for collective bargaining.

Pilots wanted the company to either negotiate directly with a pan-European Employee Representative Council or with trade unions.

Pilots believed the company’s struggles over the roster arrangements - and allegations of large numbers of staff departures - gave them more leverage than they had previously to press for collective bargaining reforms.

What exactly did Ryanair pilots plan to do?

Over the last week or so , Ryanair pilots in a number of countries across Europe began flexing their industrial muscles.

In Italy, pilots planned a four-hour stoppage while in Ireland and Portugal, the airline was facing a 24-hour pilot strike on December 20th.

Pilots in Germany and Spain have also said they were considering industrial action.

So, will the industrial action go ahead?

Ryanair, in the wake of its policy change on Friday, urged pilot unions to call off their threatened industrial action “so that our customers can look forward to travelling home for Christmas without the threat or worry of pilot strikes hanging over them”.

Italy’s main pilots’ union, Anpac, cancelled a scheduled four-hour strike after Ryanair said it would recognise the union.

In Ireland the trade union Impact, of which the Irish Airline Pilots Association is a branch, said there should be an immediate meeting between Ryanair management and the union to clarify issues.

Will the airline only recognise pilots’ unions?

No. The company has also indicated it would also recognise unions representing cabin crew and other staff .

Michael O’Leary tried to put the best slant on the policy change: “Christmas flights are very important to our customers and we wish to remove any worry or concern that they may be disrupted by pilot industrial action next week.

“If the best way to achieve this is to talk to our pilots through a recognised union process, then we are prepared to do so, and we have written today to these unions inviting them to talks to recognise them and calling on them to cancel the threatened industrial action planned for Christmas week.

“Recognising unions will be a significant change for Ryanair, but we have delivered radical change before, most recently when we launched Ryanair Labs and our highly successful ’Always Getting Better’ customer improvement programme in 2013.”