Running Out of Gas? Ryanair Under Pressure

Ryanair
Buckle up. There may be some turbulence ahead for Ryanair. Photo: bigpresh

Europe’s most-hated, most popular airline Ryanair is coming under pressure this month from both government regulators and its own employees.

German newspaper DIE ZEIT reports that Ryanair pilots at its Weeze (Dusseldorf) base were called to a meeting on July 4 and told that 40 positions were being eliminated for the winter travel season.  Pilots were given the options of unpaid vacation, part-time employment, or a move to another Ryanair base – and one week to decide.

Many of the pilots have chosen another option: steps towards unionization.

“Self-employed”cabin crew

For their colleagues in the cabin, the situation is hardly better.  Most of Ryanair’s employees do not work on direct contracts with the airline; rather, they are subcontracted through UK or Irish staffing companies. Some are even forced to declare self-employment status. As anyone familiar with precarious employment practices knows, these are simply means by which the airline maintains maximum staffing flexibility while minimizing its wages and social contributions on behalf of its employees.

Numerous European states – from Norway to France – have stepped in this year to crack down on Ryanair’s claim that its employees are Ireland-based (and therefore subject to Irish employment law), using legal structures long in existence to prevent exactly this type of cross-border evasion in order to collect health and retirement insurance payments for employees working over the legal limit within a country’s borders. Unfortunately, such action, meant to protect workers and the social systems supporting them, has thus far hit employees the hardest, taking large sums out of their already meager paychecks.

Those flight attendants who haven’t taken to the courts are also collectivizing on the down-low. Nevertheless, airline CEO Michael O’Leary refuses to recognize publicly either the need for or the growing popularity of the unionization efforts throughout all levels of his distributed workforce.

Pilots under pressure

Spanish airline regulators have called for new EU regulations on mandatory fuel minimums following the investigation into two emergency landings since 2010 made by Ryanair aircraft at Spanish airports. While Ryanair could not be found guilty of wrongdoing, its adherence to the absolute minimum fuel amount required left no room for error.

DIE ZEIT reports that Ryanair pilots are put under extreme pressure to carry no liter more than necessary, in order to save both the cost of refueling as well as the fuel cost of transporting fuel in-flight. The airline regularly produces and publicizes in-house charts of the pilots with the highest and lowest fuel usage across the fleet – a further means of fear-mongering and building pressure to toe the line, argue the pilots.

While these developments have few immediate effects, Ryanair passengers may need to expect slow-downs, delays, or even strikes in the coming months – and rather than barking in anger when their vacation plans are delayed or cancelled, show some solidarity with the airline’s employees while they fight for better working conditions and safer skies.

About the author

Hilary Bown
An academic by training, a writer by day, and a Cheapo by heritage, Hilary Bown's meagre means and insatiable travel appetite have helped her sharpen her "no-budget travel" skills across the European continent over the past decade. At home in Berlin or on an adventure abroad, you'll find her in sandals, riding the bus, reading novels while walking, drinking the local wine, writing out postcards with a felt-tip pen, and browsing the shelves of the supermarket and hardware store. Find her unique blend of travel adventure and tested advice at Less Than a Shoestring.
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