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Ahead of “biggest ever” Ryanair cabin crew strike, Brussels sides with workers

European Commission says low-cost airline must comply with the laws of the countries in which it operates

Ryanair workers are planning a mass strike next week.
Ryanair workers are planning a mass strike next week. REUTERS

One week ahead of a planned strike by Ryanair cabin crew, the European Commission has warned the low-cost carrier that it must submit to the labor laws of the countries where its workers live.

“There are rules, and these are very clear,” said EU Transportation Commissioner Violeta Bulc in an interview with EL PAÍS and other European media outlets on Wednesday, one day before Ryanair holds its annual shareholder meeting.

“The place where the worker gets up and goes back to sleep is what determines where the law is applied,” added EU Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, who also attended the meeting with the press.

Holding negotiations is a start. The question is, what material will be brought to the table

EU Commissioner Violeta Bulc

Ryanair is bracing for a new cabin crew strike in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands on Friday, September 28. The unions behind the stoppage disagree with the company policy of putting all its workers on Irish contracts rather than following local legislation.

Unions warn that this will be “the biggest strike ever seen by Ryanair” following earlier walkouts in July and August that forced the company to cancel hundreds of flights across Europe.

Commissioners Bulc and Thyssen said they appreciate a letter sent by Ryanair expressing its aim to start signing local contracts in each of the countries where it has bases. On Wednesday, the budget carrier made this proposal to its Belgian workers, but postponed the move to May 2020. Both the unions and the Commission find this unacceptable.

“Holding negotiations is a start. The question is, what material will be brought to the table,” said Bulc, who noted that national courts must ensure the implementation of legislation as established by the European Court of Justice in two separate rulings in 2017. In these decisions, the Luxembourg court said that airline employees seeking legal action should turn to the courts in the country where they work, not where the airline is headquartered. This logic is also applicable to work contracts.

Based on these decisions, a court in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on Wednesday said that Spanish courts have the authority to see cases involving labor relations at Ryanair, and ruled that a pilot hired through a third party is indeed a Ryanair employee, not an independent contractor. The airline said it will appeal the decision, as it recognizes no jurisdiction other than Ireland’s.

Bulc and Thyssen underscored that the Commission is not involved in any negotiations between Ryanair and the unions, but insisted that they will follow developments closely.

“Biggest strike ever”

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary at a press conference in London on September 12.
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary at a press conference in London on September 12. AFP

Cabin crew based in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Spain have announced a “macro-strike” for September 28, mirroring an earlier pan-European walkout that took place on July 25 and 26, affecting more than 100,000 passengers. Pilots also walked out in several countries on August 10, leading to the cancellation of nearly 400 flights.

Now, cabin crew from Germany are considering whether to join next week’s action. The decision to hold “the biggest strike this company has ever seen” was made during a meeting in Rome of seven cabin crew unions from five countries.

In a statement after that meeting, the unions said that the company’s reaction to earlier strike action has so far been “none.” “Following a long summer of talks, meaningless meetings and an escalation of an industrial dispute that ended with the first pan-European strike action in Ryanair’s history, no real progress has been made,” said the unions, which include Spain’s USO and Sitcpla.

Worker representatives also said that management is threatening workers with blocking their careers and denying their transfer requests if they go on strike. Ryanair has announced that it is canceling earlier plans to slash its Irish fleet by 20%, a move that could have meant more than 300 lost jobs, after reaching an agreement with its workers there.

English version by Susana Urra.

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