At a press conference today in Brussels the Ryanair Pilot Group has called upon the carrier’s chief executive Michael O’Leary to honour his public statement that he would talk to the organisation if it represented more than half the pilots working for Ryanair.
It was at a press conference in Sweden on 29 August that O’Leary said if he were to deal with the RPG it would have to represent, as he put it, “a majority of the Ryanair pilots telling us that…well it would have to be about 1,601 Ryanair pilots…”
Meanwhile over the summer O’Leary has made a number of statements of intent to be nicer to his passengers. It doesn’t look as if he will extend this newfound cuddly attitude to his pilots.
Chairman of the RPG Interim Council Capt Evert van Zwol said that the organisation now represents “well over 50% of Ryanair pilots, both directly employed and contracted”, and that independent verification of the numbers would be welcomed. That means well over 1,601 pilots.
So what does Ryanair say now? “We don’t comment on the activity or false claims of KLM or Aer Lingus pilots. Sorry.” In other words, all O’Leary has to do is to deny that the RPG exists, then he doesn’t have to do what he said he would. Surprise surprise.
O’Leary is not going to be able to stop the juggernaut that is now beginning to roll, but he will be able to slow it down to the point where it may be years before he and the RPG have to deal with each other. It’s a complicated story, the basic gist of which is that Ryanair is successful because of the existence of the European Union and its laws, but is able to exploit the lack of EU rules and guidance about employment practice to avoid having to talk to his workforce, and to minimise his tax, social security and pension obligations.
Van Zwol, also a member of the Dutch airline pilots’s association VNV, said : “We confirm that well over 1,601 pilots have registered with the RPG.” The Interim Council described the RPG’s structure as an organisation that “started through the actions of a group of Ryanair pilots…with the aid of the European Cockpit Association [ECA] and its member associations using the internet and social media to determine what the wider pilot body in Ryanair actually wanted.”
Ryanair has claimed that the RPG is a collection of pilot union representatives working for “rival airlines” and that it does not represent Ryanair pilots at all. In fact the RPG Interim Council does indeed consist of pilots from other airlines but who are members of organisations like the ECA or the Irish Airline Pilots Association working on behalf of the RPG. No Ryanair pilot dares publicly to declare membership. Capt Ted Murphy of IALPA described “a vortex of hostile legal activity” by Ryanair aimed at individual Council members, which van Zwol says the Council is confident it can fight off.
Asked whether the RPG would provide Ryanair with a list of members to prove the Group’s validity, van Zwol said it categorically would not do so. Pilots cannot become RPG representatives without fear of losing their jobs, the Committee said. Present at the press conference was Council member Capt John Goss, a long-time Ryanair pilot who was recently dismissed for taking part in a television documentary about the airline shown by UK television company Channel 4. Goss said he was unable to answer questions because he is the subject of legal action by Ryanair.
Van Zwol admits that the RPG is “a work in progress” because, at present, there is no provision in European Union law to recognise a group of employees based in multiple EU member states even if they all work for the same company which is, itself, recognised as a European corporate entity. Ryanair operates its aircraft from 57 bases in Europe, with pilots and cabin crew based at all of them. The RPG, he said, is the first such multinational professional pilot group to be formed, and Europe “needs new structures and new ways of thinking” for such an organisation to function, especially in the face of determined corporate resistance. O’Leary has previously told Flightglobal that the purpose of having more than 70% of its pilots work on self-employed contracts was to prevent them from being able to form a bargaining unit.
The RPG said that its members’ priorities are as follows: a common basic contract of employment for all pilots; a resolution of all tax issues by Ryanair; a transparent and fair annual leave system; a transparent and effective base transfer system; any colleague threatened, disciplined or sanctioned in the course of establishing this new representation process will be fully reinstated before any disputes will be resolved.