Irish travellers face a rising risk of massive holiday disruptions after Ryanair pilots in the UK voted yesterday to strike – a move likely to be backed by Irish pilots tomorrow.
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said 80pc of Ryanair pilots balloted in the UK voted in favour of a 48-hour strike starting on August 22 and a 72-hour strike starting on September 2 if Ryanair doesn’t meet wide-ranging demands for better pay and conditions.
But Ryanair fired back in a letter to union chiefs provided to the Irish Independent. In it, Ryanair’s director of HR strategy, Darrell Hughes, contends that the ballot to strike was made by only 450 pilots – just 36pc of the carrier’s 1,250 UK pilots – and does not represent a credible mandate to walk off the job.
Industry sources have indicated Ryanair is bracing for a similar strike verdict as the Irish Airline Pilots Association (Ialpa) plans to announce its own ballot result tomorrow.
Ryanair argues that no pilots should be threatening to walk off the job at a time when Ryanair already has warned it could lay off 500 pilots company-wide amid weak fares, Boeing aircraft delays and the threat of a no-deal Brexit.
“Balpa should work with Ryanair to save UK pilot jobs, not endanger them through ill-timed and ill-judged disruption of our customers’ travel plans, just 10 weeks before the threat of a no-deal Brexit,” Mr Hughes wrote. “We remain available for talks at your convenience.”
Balpa’s general secretary Brian Strutton also kept the door open to talk.
“We have had no formal offer from Ryanair. It is imperative that we resolve this dispute urgently to avoid strike action,” Mr Strutton said. “No pilot wants to spoil the public’s travel plans. At the moment it seems we have no choice.”
Ireland-based Ryanair pilots represented by Ialpa started their own ballot on July 24 following the Balpa move. The Irish results, expected tomorrow evening, raise the spectre of potential joint strike action in Ryanair’s two biggest markets. Any disruption to Ryanair services could coincide with strikes by British Airways pilots and Heathrow Airport ground staff, who have yet to rule out their own stoppages in the latter half of August.
Balpa accused Ryanair of failing to recognise modern labour relations standards.
“Decades of Ryanair refusing to deal with unions has resulted in two things: firstly, a management that apparently doesn’t understand how to work with unions; and secondly a company that doesn’t have a number of standard agreements that any union would reasonably expect in any workplace,” the union said in a statement that sought moves on maternity, pensions, insurance and a transparent, consistent pay structure.
“We have made no progress with Ryanair management on any of those areas at all, seemingly because Ryanair management cannot understand how to go about working with us constructively, or how to negotiate,” Balpa said.
Mr Hughes said its UK pilots enjoyed salaries of up to €200,000 and contrasted this with struggling competitor airlines Jet2 and Norwegian, which had imposed pay freezes and unpaid leave.
Ryanair long refused to recognise unions but reversed course last year after bungling its forward planning on pilot rosters in 2017, triggering mass flight cancellations.
This year the airline has faced weakening demand in its key UK market, rising fuel costs and a surprise setback as a long-time strength – its bulk supply contracts with US aircraft giant Boeing – became arguably its greatest weakness. Plans to keep expanding on the back of the Boeing 737 Max came to ruin after the new model’s indefinite grounding in March following two crashes.
Last week, after announcing a 21pc drop in profits, chief executive Michael O’Leary sent a video message to staff warning 500 pilots and 400 cabin crew could be laid off starting in September.