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Number 7 – Ryanair pilots’ story doesn’t end here

Failure is a word that no-one likes to hear. Especially not if it applies to a major European airline. But it is the word that perhaps best describes the relations between Ryanair management and its pilots right now. Management fails to honor its commitment to “talk” to its own pilots, refuses to acknowledge their call for collective bargaining and transparent negotiations, and rejects the existence of grassroot initiatives such as the European Employee Representative Council (EERC) – a body set up by Ryanair pilots from across Europe. But the story doesn’t end here: this management failure is not a reason for the pilots to give up.

To achieve these aims, many hundreds of pilots joined pilot associations and decided to establish Company Councils under the umbrella of ECA Member Associations across Europe. These Company Councils – composed of Ryanair Captains and First Officers, directly employed and contractors – do now exist in 7 European countries: Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Spain & the Netherlands – and others will follow. All 7 formally notified Ryanair management about these Company Councils and invited management to engage in negotiations on new CLAs. And all 7 received a rebuttal from Ryanair. Yet another management failure…

The importance of such Company Council cannot be underestimated, as they hold the keys to direct negotiations at national level. These structures are designed to facilitate and formalize negotiations – and this in line with national legal and social requirements and protections. They also ensure fair and transparent deals that would apply to all pilots in a given country (rather than on a selective base-by-base level), and this within a wider European framework set by the pilots themselves.

Hundreds of #Ryanair pilots joined associations & established Company Councils under the umbrella of ECA Member Associations

While this Company Council based process is business as usual for most European airlines, it is not for Ryanair that insists on a top-down take-it-or-leave-it approach. In fact, Ryanair pilots at numerous large bases have recently rejected unilateral pay increase proposals by management. Instead, they insist on collective negotiations that would ensure all Ryanair pilots in one country are directly employed – rather than through brokers or as self-employed flight-service providers. Ryanair pilots are also seeking contracts which respect the national laws of the country where they are based in. And if collective bargaining – via the Company Councils – fails or is refused, national legislations provide for rules and procedures to allow for lawful industrial action, up to and including strikes. Hence, Company Councils are an important and necessary ‘ingredient’ for conducting a legal strike in most European countries.

This move is therefore unprecedented, and it puts Ryanair under increasing pressure to negotiate with its own pilots and with the unions these pilots chose to join in massive numbers.

If collective bargaining fails or is refused, national legislation provides for rules and procedures to allow pilots to go on strike

As public discontent with Ryanair’s employment conditions continues, the fear of reprisals – for pilots who stand up for their rights to represent their colleagues – is still very much an issue, as recently expressed by the (now former) Ryanair Capt. Imelda Comer. It is therefore encouraging that an ECA-initiated crowdfund has collected donations from individuals and organisations ranging from 5 to 5.000 euro. The fund has raised well over 130.000 euro within a month. The enormous support – financial and moral – which continuous to come through this #PilotUnity campaign is another powerful tool for any pilot representatives who sometimes take up significant personal risks as representatives of their colleagues.

#PilotUnity fund

The Pilot Unity crowdfund has raised over €130.000. It is initiated & administered by ECA on behalf of the entire pilot community, with the sole purpose of providing financial security to pilot leaders, who have distinguished themselves in the struggle for collective representation.

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ECA Member Associations pledged to work towards ensuring seamless pilot representation & seamless legal protection for Ryanair pilots

To support the Ryanair pilots’ legitimate cause – fair representation, collective bargaining & direct local employment contracts – ECA’s Member Associations took a major step to allow for a trans-national pilot group to emerge: At the ECA General Assembly, in late November, pilot associations committed to stand firmly behind Ryanair pilots and their fight for social dialogue and against atypical precarious aircrew employment. Concretely, ECA Member Associations pledged to work towards ensuring seamless pilot representation & seamless legal protection (according to the national association rules) across national borders when Ryanair pilots change base & country. This is a significant development, waving off the possible waiting or probation period in the new association and ‘leaving period’ in the previous association. This would allow pilots whose base is moved repeatedly to transfer their membership and legal protection.

With legal, financial and moral support, Ryanair pilots now have almost everything that they need for successful negotiations. The only thing missing is a willing & open negotiating partner. This will soon have to change.