The EU has ordered Ryanair to respect its workers’ rights ahead of another strike on Friday that will see 150 flights cut.
The Dublin-based no-frills carrier said that it would cancel six per cent of flights on Friday amid walk-outs by cabin crew in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Ryanair pilots in Germany will also walk out in a strike that trade unions have claimed will be the biggest strike in the carrier’s history.
It comes after the European Commission ordered the airline to give workers contracts in the country they live in rather than in Ireland, where its planes are registered, adding ‘respecting EU law is not something workers should have to negotiate’.
Ryanair staff have been seeking higher wages and an end to the practice of working as independent contractors without the benefits of staff employees.
They also claim that not being employed in their home countries creates huge insecurity for them, blocking their access to state benefits.
EU Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen said that air crews should be employed under contracts from the country where they work.
Speaking after a meeting with Ryanair’s combative CEO Michael O’Leary, she said: ‘The internal market is not a jungle; it has clear rules on fair labour mobility and worker protection. This is not an academic debate, but about concrete social rights of workers.’
She said she had made this very clear to Mr O’Leary.
Mr O’Leary countered the argument by saying that the demand was ‘irrelevant’ as the company had already written to unions in all EU countries offering to move staff to local contracts.
But Belgian union CNE said that while the airline had agreed to follow local employment law, it wanted to do so from March 2020 and it added that this change would only affect about half of its workers.
Mr O’Leary said: ‘The issue of applicable law is irrelevant in Ryanair´s case since Ryanair has already written to the unions in Belgium (and all other EU countries) offering to agree the implementation of local (Belgium) law, social taxes and court jurisdiction by agreement with the national unions.’
But Ms Thyssen added in a statement: ‘Respecting the law is not something over which workers should have to negotiate and not something that can be postponed to a later date.’
Ryanair said in a statement that the vast majority of its 2,400 flights on Friday ‘will be unaffected by these unnecessary strikes and will operate as scheduled’.
All affected customers received email and text message notifications on Tuesday to advise them of cancellations and options, Ryanair said.
‘We sincerely apologise to those customers affected by these unnecessary strikes on Friday which we have done our utmost to avoid,’ it said.
At a press conference O’Leary called for the cancellation of the strike, threatening to shrink Ryanair’s fleet at two Brussels airports if it went ahead.
Last month, Ryanair pilots across Europe staged a co-ordinated 24-hour strike to push their demands for better pay and conditions, plunging tens of thousands of passengers into transport chaos at the peak of the busy summer season.
In July, strikes by cockpit and cabin crew disrupted 600 flights in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, affecting 100,000 travellers.
This week, Ryanair signed deals with cabin crew unions in Italy to provide employment contracts under Italian law.
And on Wednesday the airline said it had submitted a complaint to the European Commission citing ‘anti-competitive behaviours’ over the fact that employees of other airlines were involved in calling strikes in several countries across Europe.
It called on the Commission to investigate the ‘collective campaign,’ which it said included the European Cockpit Association and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
‘Ryanair’s business is being damaged by unnecessary strikes and disruptive interference in our bona fide union negotiations, promoted and coordinated by competitor airline employees, their unions and lobby groups,’ the airline said in a statement.
Unions have said union members from other airlines have been assisting Ryanair staff due to the fact that they have a number of years of experience in dealing with union negotiations, while most Ryanair staff have very little.