Ryanair Heads to Courts To Block Irish and UK Pilots Strikes

 - August 19, 2019, 2:08 PM

While insisting that only a minority of its UK and Dublin-based pilots support the walkouts called by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) and its Irish counterpart, the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA), Ryanair appears to fear sufficient disruption to its operations to seek a court injunction against the planned strikes. Directly employed Ryanair pilots based in Ireland represented by IALPA plan to take strike action for 48 hours from 12:01 a.m. local time on Thursday. BALPA set similar strike dates and an additional three days of industrial action from September 2.

Ryanair seeks a high court injunction on Wednesday to stop the planned walkouts by some of its UK pilots, a move that prompted BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton to conclude that the LCC’s chance to resolve the dispute “has been lost.” He called Ryanair’s attempt to block lawful strike action “just another demonstration of the bullying tactics the airline appears to favor.”

BALPA said it submitted a detailed pay and conditions claim to the airline in March, but the sides made no progress on any of the items on the list—including pensions; loss of license insurance; maternity benefits; allowances; and a fair, transparent, and consistent pay structure. The resulting 80 percent vote in favor of strike action came before BALPA urged Ryanair to meet for last-ditch talks to avert the planned work stoppages with conciliation service ACAS, but, according to the union, “the airline refused.”

According to Ryanair, less than 30 percent of its more than 1,250 UK pilots support the industrial action and less than 50 percent of its UK pilots belong to BALPA. "Therefore, BALPA has no mandate to disrupt our customers holidays and flights, particularly at a time when UK pilots are facing job losses due to the Boeing Max delivery delays, and the threat of a no-deal Brexit on October 31,” it asserted.

The Dublin high court heard Ryanair’s legal challenge to stop the upcoming Irish pilots’ strike on Monday after mediation talks last week failed to end in an agreement. Ryanair described the union’s pay proposals as “unrealistic and unimplementable” while pointing to Norwegian’s announcement it will close its Dublin operations with the loss of more than 120 crew jobs, its own “surplus” of more than 500 pilots due to the delayed delivery of over 30 Maxes this winter, and Brexit. “No company can concede to grossly unreasonable demands from its highest-paid workers for a further pay increase of over 100 percent—when they already agreed and received a 20 percent pay increase earlier this year—at a time when the airline industry is in crisis,” Ryanair chief people officer Eddie Wilson commented. In contrast, IALPA insisted it only seeks pay levels “common and competitive in the commercial airline sector.”

The strike action by some of Ryanair’s UK and Irish pilots is part of a new wave of social unrest spreading across the LCC’s network. Staff in Spain and in Portugal have threatened strike action over pay, the lack of progress in concluding national collective labor agreements, and potential base closures. The SNPVAC trade union representing Ryanair cabin crew based in Portugal plans work stoppages from August 21 to 25 in protest of the company’s refusal to fully comply with a protocol signed last November, which it said included holiday pay, 22 days of annual leave per year, and full compliance with Portuguese parental law. In Spain, the USO and Sitcpla unions have submitted a 10-day strike notice—on September 1, 2, 6, 8, 13, 15, 20, 22, 27, and 29—in the 13 bases where the LCC operates in the country to “prevent the closure of the bases of Gran Canaria, Tenerife South, and Girona.”

Ryanair last month warned it might have to cut routes, close bases, and dismiss as many as 500 pilots and 400 cabin crew due mainly to the delay in the delivery of its 737 Max 200s, of which it has 135 on firm order and options for an additional 75. Original schedules called for it to take delivery of its first Max 200 in April, but the airline now expects to receive its first of the high-density Max jets “sometime between January and February 2020.” The shortfall in aircraft deliveries, it said, requires some base cuts and closures for the winter 2019 schedule and summer 2020.

The European Cockpit Association (ECA), however, suspects Ryanair of using the Max debacle as an excuse, while remaining true to itself and its “inability to undertake genuine social dialogue with its employees.”

“The company issued warnings of job cuts, but few in the industry are convinced by the justification provided by the airline,” said ECA secretary general Philip von Schöppenthau in a statement earlier this month. “The continually varying threats are reminiscent of last year's, made after 100 Irish pilots walked out. However, with a future flying program larger than this year's, even with the delayed arrival of 'growth' 737 Max aircraft, and management continuing to recruit pilots, it is difficult to see these ever-changing warnings of a pilot surplus as genuine.”  

ECA President Jon Horne said the Brussels-based body representing more than 40,000 pilots from across Europe is “not surprised” with this warning by Ryanair. "The new threat also calls to mind the closure of the Eindhoven [in the Netherlands] base—a retaliation measure against pilots and cabin crew on strike,” Horne added. “This seems to be the only approach to industrial issues that the current management knows."