Ryanair laments ‘unnecessary’ strike, as pilots aim to ‘strengthen our rights’

Ryanair called today's strike action "unjustified", although pilots claim that they are after better working conditions that the profit-making company should foot the bill for. [InsectWorld / Shutterstock]

Ryanair pilots in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden are staging a 24-hour strike on Friday (August 10) in one of the most severe examples of strike action in the company’s history. The low-cost carrier has branded the action “unjustified” and “unnecessary”.

Among their demands, which include sick leave and pension schemes, the European unions want the contracts of Ryanair employees to be governed by the laws of the nation where they are based, not by Irish legislation.

“I’m 100% behind the union’s strike plans,” one pilot told EURACTIV on condition of anonymity. 

“Why? My employer is the most profitable airline in Europe. Last year, we made about €1.4 billion net profit. Today, Ryanair is doing better than ever and you have to pay respect to Michael O’Leary for that, but now is the time to strengthen our rights,” they explained.

“The market is on our side. Right now, pilots are sought all over the world and by all airlines. That’s why Ryanair agreed for the first time to negotiate with the union: the airline depends on us to keep growing in Europe as planned.

“Germany in particular is a lucrative market for Ryanair, with the number of aircraft at Frankfurt Airport set to double from 20 to 40 in the medium term,” the pilot added.  

The strike is scheduled to end on Saturday (11 August) at 2.59am. About 55,000 passengers are understood to have been told of cancellations on 400 flights – 250 in Germany alone – out of the scheduled 2,400, thus disrupting what is set to be one of the busiest days for airlines.

Ryanair only recognised trade unions for the first time in December 2017 and has been beset by industrial action.

Europe’s largest low-cost carrier posted a record €1.45 billion profit after tax in its financial year ending March 31. 

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“Ryanair alone is responsible for the escalation” 

Germany’s powerful Cockpit union (VC) held a press conference in Frankfurt on 8 August, explaining that 96% of Ryanair pilots in Germany voted in favour of industrial action. Ryanair employs about 400 pilots in the country. 

“We want better pay and working conditions,” Martin Locher, president of VC, said, adding that there could be no improvement for the staff otherwise.

“Ryanair makes billions of profit every year, and the average ticket costs about €40. Someone has to finance it. The staff will no longer pay for it,” he added.  

He accused Ryanair of “categorically” ruling out higher personnel costs for cockpit crew, leaving no room for a compromise.

“Ryanair alone is responsible for the escalation we are now seeing,” Locher insisted. 

The pilots’ strike action follows the 48-hour cabin crew strike on 25 and 26 July, which saw a total of 600 flights to and from Spain, Portugal and Belgium cancelled, affecting a total of around 100,000 passengers.

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Strike “unjustified” and “unnecessary” 

Speaking at a press conference in Frankfurt the same day VC held its own, Ryanair Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Jacobs said the German union should “remove the threat of an unjustified and unnecessary strike”.

He said that German pilots enjoy excellent working conditions and are paid up to €190,000 annually. 

“Ryanair pilots earn at least 30% more than Eurowings and 20% more than Norwegian pilots,” Kenny Jacobs added.

The pilot refuted this argument, insisting that even “if we can earn up to €110,000 a year, we still have to bear all the costs ourselves, be it uniform, transfers or other things”. 

“Often, it happens that our working day does not start at our home base, meaning we have to travel by train at our own expenses to another airport,” they added. 

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