Ryanair strike hits 55,000 cus­tomers across Europe

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - REPORT ON BUSINESS - PADRAIC HALPIN DUBLIN VIC­TO­RIA BRYAN BER­LIN

Ryanair DAC faced its worst one-day strike on Fri­day af­ter a walk­out by pi­lots in five Euro­pean coun­tries dis­rupted the plans of an es­ti­mated 55,000 trav­ellers with the bud­get air­line at the height of the sum­mer hol­i­day sea­son. Ryanair, which averted wide­spread strikes just be­fore last Christ­mas by agree­ing to rec­og­nize unions for the first time in its 30-year his­tory, has been un­able to quell ris­ing protests over slow progress in ne­go­ti­at­ing col­lec­tive labour agree­ments. In re­sponse to unions serv­ing strike no­tices, Ryanair an­nounced the can­cel­la­tions in re­cent days of 250 flights in and out of Ger­many, 104 to and from Bel­gium and an­other 42 in Swe­den and its home mar­ket of Ire­land, where around a quar­ter of its pi­lots were stag­ing their fifth 24-hour walk­out. The air­line ex­pected the travel plans of 42,000 trav­ellers to be hit by the ac­tion in Ger­many alone, with the ma­jor­ity of pas­sen­gers switched to an­other Ryanair flight and the re­main­der ei­ther re­funded or rerouted. “What I find un­jus­ti­fied is that the pi­lots draw the short straw, be­cause peo­ple want to fly cheaply,” said Daniel Flam­man, one of sev­eral pas­sen­gers Reuters spoke to at Frank­furt air­port who said they sym­pa­thized with the pi­lots. “It’s an­noy­ing that it’s hap­pen­ing in the sum­mer hol­i­days, but it’s the only means they have.” In­golf Schu­macher, pay ne­go­tia­tor at Ger­many’s Vere­ini­gung Cock­pit (VC) union, said pi­lots had to be pre­pared for “a very long bat­tle” and that it could take months to push through change at Europe’s largest low-cost car­rier. The un­rest is one of the big­gest chal­lenges to face long-term chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael O’Leary, who was once quoted as say­ing he would rather cut off his hand than rec­og­nize unions and on an­other oc­ca­sion crossed a picket line of bag­gage han­dlers to help load a plane. The out­spo­ken Mr. O’Leary has in re­cent years tried to soften Ryanair’s abra­sive pub­lic im­age, fear­ing it could be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive for Europe’s most prof­itable air­line. The strike topped the 300 flights a day Ryanair had to can­cel last month when cabin crews in Bel­gium, Por­tu­gal and Spain went on strike for 48 hours. A Dutch court also re­jected a case from Ryanair seek­ing to block pi­lots in the Nether­lands from join­ing Fri­day’s strike, but the Ir­ish air­line said all of its flights there would run as sched­uled. Shares in the air­line were 1.4 per cent lower at €13.36 ($20.00) Fri­day morn­ing, hav­ing fallen 18 per cent since the ac­tion ramped up in mid-July to stand well be­low the €14.21 they slumped to in De­cem­ber when Ryanair shocked mar­kets by rec­og­niz­ing unions. Ryanair op­er­ates more than 2,000 flights a day, serv­ing 223 air­ports across 37 coun­tries in Europe and North Africa, and in­sists it will not change the low-cost model that trans­formed the in­dus­try and has made it Europe’s most prof­itable air­line. At Charleroi Air­port, Bel­gium’s sec­ond largest and a ma­jor Ryanair hub in the re­gion, strik­ing staff gath­ered in the de­par­ture hall and held up ban­ners that read “Ryanair must change – Re­spect us.” “Ryanair is the only multi­na­tional in Bel­gium that doesn’t re­spect the Bel­gian law and that’s not nor­mal,” said Di­dier Lebbe, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of union ACV-CSC, whose de­mands in­clude se­cur­ing its pi­lots pay when they are on standby. Apol­o­giz­ing to cus­tomers, Ryanair said in a state­ment that it took every step to min­i­mize the dis­rup­tion and called on strik­ing unions to con­tinue ne­go­ti­a­tions in­stead of call­ing any more “un­jus­ti­fied strikes.” It has fur­ther an­gered unions by threat­en­ing to move jobs away from bases af­fected by the stop­pages, and be­gan car­ry­ing that out in Dublin where it cut its win­ter fleet by 20 per cent and put over 300 em­ploy­ees on pre­lim­i­nary no­tice. Ryanair has said that strike ac­tion will hit av­er­age fares be­cause it takes up seats that it could oth­er­wise have sold at a high last-minute price.

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