The Ryanair business model is fraying, according to numbers from the company’s CEO himself. On the eve of a historic employee strike in several European countries, a historic event that has already caused 600 flight cancellations, Ryanair founder Michael O’Leary presented first quarter financial results showing profits have plunged by 20 percent, despite a 7 percent increase in passengers, because of “higher fuel and labor costs.”
The higher labor costs are due to the recent limited agreement with a portion of their Irish pilots, who received a pay raise last year after many decided to move to other companies where the pay and working conditions are better. Consequently, Ryanair had to walk back its intransigent position and sign an agreement with the British union Unite.
Otherwise, O’Leary continues to view the unions as the devil, and is flouting workers’ rights in Belgium as well, where Ryanair now plans to “divert” Polish and German crews to replace employees going on strike, as the trade union CNE has reported. In Brussels, it is likely that 80 percent of flights will be canceled Wednesday, the highest proportion in Europe. To avoid this setback, Ryanair seems to have decided to move staff in from other countries. The Belgian union CNE denounced these plans, raising particular alarm about the enforcement of maximum flight times for the staff that is to be diverted from other countries: the main risk is that the pilots would be made to work for too many hours, jeopardizing the safety of the passengers.
This low-cost model, essentially based on keeping labor costs much lower than the competition, has been taken up as the main issue focused on by the trade unions, which decided on July 3 and 4 in Dublin to organize Wednesday’s strike and to create a “bill of rights” for Ryanair workers, the Ryanair Crew Charter.
The strike will focus primarily on flight attendants, who have less bargaining power than the pilots, and also worse wages compared with their peers. The unions estimate that, compared to other low-cost carriers such as EasyJet or Norwegian Air, the gross difference in flight attendants’ salaries amounts to €8,000 to €9,000 per year—that is €400 in terms of the basic salary (€950 compared to €1,350 for the competition), with a wage of €17.13 per flight hour.
Wednesday’s 24-hour strike by Ryanair flight crews will involve several countries across Europe, but in Belgium, Spain and Portugal the protest strike also extend to Thursday, protesting “against the Irish company’s approach to its workers,” according to the unions in these three countries.
The strike in Italy will be more limited, as the unions have split on this issue. The strike was called by FILT CGIL and UILTrasporti, but not by FIT CISL, which decided to break the united front put up by the unions and join the autonomous workers of ANPAC and ANPAV, ready to negotiate with Ryanair.
“The great majority of Ryanair pilots and flight attendants see it as unacceptable that the company, in spite of the decisions of the judiciary and in defiance of the most basic constitutional rights, continues to unilaterally prefer negotiating only with representatives of a minority,” FILT and UILT said. “Ryanair has again lost an opportunity for a healthy and constructive dialogue to protect the workers and the company.”
During previous strikes—the first of which were called by FIT CISL alone—no flight attendant in Italy dared to stop working. But Wednesday, in Bergamo, Catania and Ciampino—the most important Ryanair hubs—there will be some workers who will make history.