Ryanair was hit by its first strike in company history yesterday (Friday, December 22) when German pilots staged a four-hour walkout. The strike comes right in the middle of the busy holiday season and after Ryanair was forced to cancel tens of thousands of flights last fall due to scheduling mistakes.

“This was a warning shot and we started small. However, there is potential for much more,” said Markus Wahl a spokesman for Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), a German union. Wahl ruled out further strikes until after Dec 26.

“This disruption called by the VC pilot union is unjustified and unnecessary,” Ryanair said.

This strike is soon after Ryanair agreed to recognize pilot unions for the first time in its history in an effort to avert a string of threatened strikes across Europe. This will force Ryanair to deal with the same labor costs and issues as legacy competitors. However, unions claim that, though Ryanair did acknowledge them, the airline is not interested in negotiations. The first scheduled talks were reportedly miserable, and the union claims that the Ryanair management has canceled further talks because the airline “rejected the inclusion of two people on the council representing pilots in negotiations”.

VC’s initial negotiation talks with the Irish company, which were scheduled for yesterday, were canceled at short notice by the employer because he rejected two of the five VC company council members present at the negotiating table,” reads a statement on the website of VC. “From VCs’ point of view, this refusal clearly shows that the principles of trade union autonomy are disregarded by Ryanair and that the company does not truly desire to enter into constructive negotiations.”

VC says that Ryanair objected due to the participation of a pilot who is not directly employed by Ryanair. Many of Ryanair’s pilots are employed via contracts from separate agencies, and many of those pilots have voiced concerns recently over demanding and atypical working conditions. VC says that Ryanair representatives declined to sign a “good-faith bargaining agreement”.

VC’s strike comes days after Ryanair recognized unions for the first time. VC is unhappy with how Ryanair managed the strike.
Photo Source: aromano via flickr

“Ryanair’s public offer to conduct negotiations with [Vereinigung Cockpit] can only be classified as a further publicity stunt”, said Ingolf Schumacher, head of the Industrial Department at VC. “In the history of the VC, there has never been a case in which the collective bargaining autonomy has been trampled on by an employer as it is now the case with Ryanair. This makes it clear to VC that the company is not interested in a mutually constructive cooperation, based on trust and equality. Rather, Ryanair is trying to win time and attempting to delay the beginning of collective bargaining,” Schumacher said.

“Ryanair is still trying to enforce their old habit of dictating the conditions under which negotiations can take place,” read a letter from VC to pilots. “Under these conditions, there can be no fruitful negotiations to reach any form of acceptable common labor agreement.”

Despite these complaints, VC acknowledged that Ryanair has expressed desire to “build trust and better cooperation between the pilots and management.”

The walkout occured from 5:01-8:59 local time (4:01-7:59 GMT) on Friday morning, when 36 flights were scheduled.

The strike had minimal effects on operations, however, as fewer than a dozen flights were delayed and none were cancelled.

“We advise all customers in Germany to turn up as normal tomorrow, as we plan to operate all scheduled flights,” said Robin Kiely, the head of communications at Ryanair, in a statement on Thursday.

“Nine of our 36 first wave flights operating from Germany this morning were delayed, but there have been no cancellations, and Ryanair expects to operate all of our German scheduled flights today,” said Ryanair. “We are grateful to all of our Ryanair pilots for putting our customers first and largely ignoring this VC strike.”

“All in all there were no significant effects,” said a spokesman for Berlin airports.

Despite the fact that Ryanair faced a minimal impact to its flight schedule, the pilot’s union deemed the strike a success.

“[Ryanair] had to work all night to mitigate the consequences of the strike and there were nearly no consequences for the passengers,” said Wahl. “It was a win-win situation; we hit the company without hitting the passengers.”

Ryanair has scheduled to meet with union representatives again on January 5, 2018 to discuss a labor agreement. VC says that it won’t negotiate and may even strike on the 5th if Ryanair doesn’t allow the pilots that it has blocked from talks to negotiate.

“It is impossible that an employer tries to dictate to a union who to negotiate with,” said Wahl. “As long as [Ryanair won’t recognize the two pilots], we won’t enter talks. If the airline continues to act like it does, further escalation is possible.”

This conflict is putting a dent in Ryanair’s market share. During December alone, the carrier’s shares have fallen about 15%.

Union talks in Ireland haven’t been as disastrous, where Impact, a union representing Irish pilots, has confirmed Ryanair’s recognition of unions and the two parties have agreed to talk on January 3.

Featured image by Paolo Margari via flickr.

Categories: Pilot and Plane