Ryanair rejects ballot on union recognition


The chief executive of Ryanair, Mr Michael O'Leary, has ruled out holding a ballot of staff on union recognition. He also claimed that no flights have been delayed or disrupted since the dispute with baggage handlers began five weeks ago.

Mr O'Leary said he expects that at least 10 of the 30 baggage-handlers now on work stoppages will resume normal work within the next two weeks. Speaking publicly for the first time yesterday about the dispute, he said the majority of baggage-handlers were working normally.

He would not put the issue of union recognition to a vote of staff. "When was the onus suddenly put on a company to put this thing to a vote?" he asked.

Mr O'Leary maintained that the majority of staff did not want union recognition. "They [SIPTU] put it to a ballot of the baggage-handlers, and they couldn't even get a majority," he said.

However, he declined to give a figure for baggage-handlers in Ryanair, except to say that 168 people work in ground handling operations.

Mr O'Leary denied that Ryanair was anti-union. "We have plenty of people in unions," he said, but the unions did not represent them in pay talks.

"We have given an undertaking to staff that if they negotiate directly with us we will keep their pay ahead of our competitors," he said.

He accused SIPTU of misleading the baggage-handlers on pay rates. He said officials had told Ryanair baggage-handlers in December that the average pay of a Servisair baggage-handler (its nearest competitor) was £16,000 per year, while it was £13,500 in Ryanair.

"Since the last pay increase in May 1997 we haven't lost one baggage-handler to Servisair or Aer Lingus," he said.

Mr O'Leary said Servisair was currently seeking baggage-handlers and the closing date was today. "At the close of business on Monday, they had not received one application from Ryanair staff," he said.

In fact, he claimed, Ryanair was getting applications from Servisair and Aer Lingus baggage-handlers, because the "Ryanair pay figures have come out since the dispute began".

Mr O'Leary denied suggestions that Ryanair staff were being intimidated. He said each baggage-handler had received a letter, signed personally by him, that they would not be intimidated if they returned to work. Nor would their temporary contracts or their opportunities for promotion be affected.

He denied that staff who were working normally were being offered added inducements, or free meals.

"Everyone, whether they are involved in work stoppages or not, is being fed," he said, adding that those who were covering for baggage-handlers during the stoppages were getting nothing extra.

Defending Ryanair's rejection of Labour Court talks, he said the company had told the court that people were returning to work and did not want to interrupt that process.

Pressed as to why he was speaking publicly only now, two days before the company's third quarter results are published, he said three people had been on RTE radio on Sunday talking about the dispute and he had heard "rubbish and lies."

He said it had been stated that the workers' contracts forbade them to talk to the press. "This is utter lies and is unenforceable anyway."

On flight delays, he said it was "factually correct" to say that no flights had been delayed or disrupted because of the dispute. The company had issued a statement to the Dublin and New York stock exchanges declaring this some time ago "and you can't lie to the Stock Exchange".

He acknowledged that there had been some flight delays, but these had been due to technical or weather problems. "What airline doesn't have problems due to such factors?" he said.