Sat, Aug 11, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Ryanair dispute deepens as European pilots strike


Ryanair airplanes stand on the tarmac at the Charleroi airport in Belgium yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Tens of thousands of passengers yeterday were hit by transport chaos as Ryanair Holdings PLC pilots across Europe went on a coordinated 24-hour strike to push demands for better pay and conditions at the peak of the busy summer season.

The Irish no-frills airline was forced to scrap about 400 out of 2,400 European flights scheduled for yesterday as pilots in Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands walked off the job.

About 55,000 passengers are affected by the strikes, said Ryanair, which has offered refunds or the option of rerouting journeys.

Ryanair has said the strikes are “unnecessary,” but pilots have said that the carrier has refused to engage in meaningful dialogue about collective labor agreements since it began recognizing unions in December last year.

Germany is worst hit by the industrial action, with 250 flights scrapped at 10 airports.

The country’s powerful Cockpit union said it had called on Ryanair’s roughly 480 Germany-based pilots to walk out from 3:01am yesterday until 02:59am today.

“There needs to be a rethink at the Dublin company headquarters on how employees are treated,” said Ingolf Schumacher, who heads Cockpit’s salary policy division.

“Ryanair said there is not one extra cent for personnel costs,” Schumacher said, adding that “therefore, no improvement is possible.”

Cockpit president Martin Locher said Ryanair was solely “responsible for the escalation we are now seeing.”

In Brussels, about two dozen pilots protested at Charleroi airport, wearing mock badges with slogans like “Ryanair must change” or “Respect us.”

In the Netherlands, Ryanair lost a bid to obtain an urgent court order to try to prevent Dutch pilots from joining the industrial action, but the airline said flights to and from the country would not be canceled.

The Dutch flights count among more than 2,000 flights — 85 percent of its schedule — that were to operate as usual across Europe yesterday.

Customers were notified as early as possible and a majority of those affected had already been rebooked, the airline said.

The unprecedented simultaneous strike action is the latest headache in a turbulent summer for Europe’s second-largest airline.

It was affected by a round of strikes by cockpit and cabin crew last month that disrupted 600 flights in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, affecting 100,000 travelers.

Ryanair, which flies in 37 countries and carried 130 million passengers last year, averted widespread Christmas strikes last year by agreeing to recognize trade unions for the first time in its 33-year history.

However, since then it has struggled to reach agreements.

The company expects profits of about 1.25 billion euros (US$1.44 billion) this year and says it has lower costs per passenger than its competitors.

Ryanair pilots say they earn less than counterparts at airlines like Deutsche Lufthansa AG.

Unions also want the airline to give contractors the same work conditions as staff employees.

At a Frankfurt news conference on Wednesday, Ryanair chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said the company’s German pilots enjoy “excellent working conditions,” earning up to 190,000 euros (US$220,000) annually, which he said was more than their peers at budget rival Eurowings made.

Ryanair had already offered a 20 percent pay increase this year and 80 percent of its pilots in Germany were now on permanent contracts, Jacobs said.

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