Polish pilots plot to join Ryanair rebellion
European workers want to secure union membership if jobs move away from Ireland, trade body says
EUROPEAN pilots have sought to counter concerns that Ryanair is ramping up the transfer of hundreds of jobs to union-lite countries.
The president of the European Cockpit Association (ECA), a body that represents more than 38,000 pilots from national associations across 36 countries, has told The Sunday
Telegraph that Polish pilots want to be “part of the movement” against Ryanair.
The low-cost carrier has already signalled its intention to transfer a fifth of its Irish fleet to Poland this winter – a country with limited pilot union representation – as part of a dispute over pay and working conditions that has now spilt over across multiple European jurisdictions.
If Polish pilots are unable to join Poland’s main union, a separate platform will be set up instead, ECA chief Dirk Polloczek said.
Ryanair was hit by its worst ever strikes on Friday as Irish pilots were joined by counterparts from Germany, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands in concerted action. One in six flights were cancelled, disrupting the travel plans of 55,000 customers.
Last month, Ryanair told more than 300 pilots and cabin crew their jobs were at risk, with plans to relocate aircraft to Polish carrier Ryanair Sun this winter. Michael O’leary, the chief executive, later warned that more of the fleet could be moved to Poland amid “damaging” action by Irish staff.
The ECA is concerned Ryanair may expand the plans by relocating more of its fleet to bases such as Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia that have “limited union coverage”. The Polish Airlines Pilot Association, the main union in the country, is understood to only represent national carrier LOT.
Mr Polloczek said: “Ryanair pilots in the eastern European countries – particularly in Poland – feel that they need to be part of the movement [against Ryanair] … there is no strong pilot union in Poland, but that does not mean the Ryanair pilots in Poland do not want to be a part of it.”
After a 24-day hiatus, Ryanair and Irish union Forsa will return to the negotiating table tomorrow. Meanwhile, the German walkout had the single largest impact on Ryanair cancellations with 250 flights in and out of the country grounded on Friday. James Phillips, a director of international affairs for Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), the German pilots’ union, warned there was no end in sight in its dispute with Ryanair.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if it does stay entrenched for a while,” he said. “I was in some of the negotiations and got the impression that Ryanair wants to hold their model very firmly. They are willing to change some things but the question that kept coming up was: ‘name 10 things we have to change’. The problem is it is not 10 big things that have to change, it’s 100 little things.”
Andrew Lobbenberg, of HSBC, concluded that the airline would ultimately cave in to pilots’ “key demands”.
A Ryanair spokesman declined to comment on further job transfers. “We would like the VC to come back to the negotiation table,” he said.
Dirk Polloczek, head of the European Cockpit Association, said Polish pilots are keen to join some form of union