Ryanair Hit With Its First Pilot Strike, in Germany

Ryanair Hit With Its First Pilot Strike, in Germany

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/business/ryanair-pilot-strike.html
By AMIE TSANGDEC. 22, 2017

Ryanair was hit by the first strike in its company history on Friday after pilots in Germany staged a four-hour walkout, days after the airline agreed to recognize unions but talks fell apart.

The strike, another blow to the reputation of Ryanair, the largest budget airline in Europe, came during the busy holiday traveling season. It also occurred after the airline had to cancel more than 20,000 flights in recent months because of scheduling problems.

The strike appeared to cause limited disruption to Ryanair’s passengers. The company, which is based in Ireland, said that nine of its morning flights leaving from Germany had been delayed, but that none had been canceled.

The union deemed the strike a success, nonetheless, saying that it had put pressure on the company’s management.

“They had to work all night to mitigate the consequences of the strike and there were nearly no consequences for the passengers,” Markus Wahl, a spokesman for the German union, Vereinigung Cockpit, said on Friday. “It was a win-win situation; we hit the company without hitting the passengers.”The strike came on the heels of an agreement by the company last week to change its longstanding position and recognize pilots’ unions for the first time. Ryanair’s announcement was seen as an indication that it would have to grapple with the same labor costs and issues as its legacy competitors.

But the union said the company appeared to be paying lip service to having a union but was not interested in serious negotiations. Further talks with Ryanair management were canceled, the union said, because the airline rejected the inclusion of two people on the council representing pilots in the negotiations.

On Thursday, the union called for the strike in Germany from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Friday local time.

“Ryanair’s public offer to conduct negotiations with V.C. can only be classified as a further publicity stunt,” Ingolf Schumacher, the head of the union’s industrial department, said in a statement. “Ryanair is trying to win time and attempting to delay the beginning of collective bargaining.”

Ryanair said it had objected to having a contract pilot, who had not flown with the company for 15 months and was in litigation with the company, at the union talks. The union said this pilot had been fired two days after he publicly said he was a member of the union’s negotiating team and was taking this to court.

But the union said the company had also objected to the participation by another pilot because he also was not a direct Ryanair employee. Many of Ryanair’s pilots are employed on contracts through separate agencies and, as tensions have flared over relations between the company and its pilots, many have voiced their frustration at the demanding work conditions and these atypical work arrangements.

In a letter to its members, the union said Ryanair representatives had refused to enter the negotiating room until the pilot involved in the litigation had left. The union also said that the airline had declined to sign a “good-faith bargaining agreement.”

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

The union did concede that the company had expressed a desire to “build trust and better cooperation between the pilots and management,” but said that the “underlying control issues are the same.”

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

The statement added, “We will be doing our upmost to minimize any disruptions to the Christmas travel plans of our German customers.”

Ryanair had also written to its German pilots asking them not to strike and to “avoid disrupting the plans of thousands of German passengers during Christmas week.” It also said it had agreed to meet with union representatives on Jan. 5 to discuss a collective labor agreement.

The union, however, said it would not negotiate unless the company backs down on allowing the two pilots to be part of its negotiation team. If Ryanair does not change its stance, Mr. Wahl said, “further strike action will be possible.”

Pilots in other European countries, including Ireland and Italy, have threatened to walk off the job.

The budget carrier has been trying to stanch a growing backlash among its ranks, after scheduling problems led the company to threaten to cancel pilots’ holidays. The pilots pushed back, and Ryanair cut thousands of flights instead.

But the episodes galvanized the pilots, who started organizing for better conditions and more secure contracts.

Union negotiations have not been as disastrous in Ireland, where Impact, which represents Irish pilots, said on Thursday that the company had confirmed its recognition of the union in writing and that both sides had agreed to meet on Jan. 3 to establish collective bargaining procedures.

Follow Amie Tsang on Twitter: @amietsang.

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