13 Jul 2011


Working for Ryanair
Ryanair is one of the largest players in the industry.A 180 aircraft strong fleet, more than 30 bases across 10 provinces and carry almost 60 million passengers a year.
However, Ryanair still does not recognise a professional body or Union. Some would say that this fact has contributed to those impressive figures. Without Trade Union support to uphold terms and conditions, our pilots and crews now fly at very low cost in comparison to our peers. The company can pass on those savings to the consumer to encourage a higher load factor, which in turn, is used to impress traders on the stock markets and municipal governments for favourable airport contracts.
Flying for Ryanair has its advantages. You might have heard them before. Both the company and the pilots can quite rightly be proud of these facts, so the sales pitch can be somewhat well-worn. It goes like this: we have a ‘fixed’ roster pattern. Five days on, four days off. This can change to five on three off, or six on two off during the last quarter of the fiscal year. If you are flying out of your home base, you get to go home every night. We have one of, if not the newest fleets in the industry with an average age of three years. The aircraft are well maintained, the routes are varied and interesting and the Company’s growth means there’s plenty of potential for training or management positions and so on. From the outside, Ryanair can look appealing, and on the surface, it is. Life on the inside, however, is a little different.
The reality of life in Ryanair
Sitting down with the strategists behind the campaign, it was interesting to note that the first objective to achieve – our number one ‘want’ – was ‘a voice’; the power of collective bargaining. Increased terms and conditions are secondary. Simply put, the unanimous priority for those involved is, ‘we want to be heard’.
The problem lies in the way management view, and subsequently treat its staff. Contracts are handed out with a ‘take it or leave it’ approach. Annexes to the contracts, so-called ‘Agreements’, are imposed without proper consultation, with a view of ‘we can do what we want’. In Ryanair, pilots feel they are treated as property – once you sign up you are effectively signing all your flexibility to the company. Pilots who fight their corner are met with threats or punitive measures. Right now the mood is that management is actively working against pilots and cabin crew, which is an untenable position long term.
At the moment, the company operates with a system of Company Councils called ERCs (Employee Representative Committees). These entitle Ryanair to forgo official Union recognition as the ERCs should represent the view of the pilots to management and vice versa. In principle this might work with a fair and respectful management, who would be willing to listen and come to some compromise. However, within the last several years we have seen Ryanair’s management largely ignore its own rules on operating the ERCs, and has not been consistent in holding free and fair elections when it should, having only done this at the insistence of the pilots. Management ignores the views expressed by the pilots via the ERC members and engages in a very heavily-weighted top-down approach. Pilots, especially in larger bases, are often unaware of who is representing them; when they wish to be represented, the ERCs, for all their time and effort, are made ineffectual because management does not wish to engage in progressive discussion with them. The end result is that the effectiveness of the ERCs has been devalued.
Consider the reduction in our terms and conditions over the last decade. Since 1999 Ryanair pilots’ average pay in real terms has decreased; we now pay for our own uniforms, food and drink on board and our own travel and HOTAC to and from training facilities. Medicals are organised by the individual pilot, are paid for out of his/her disposable income and are taken on their days off; we receive no loss of licence cover, no health insurance (although these are covered in an ‘allowance’ which is granted at the company’s whim); we are not compensated for having to move base; our annual leave is a statutory 28 days, of which the company dictates when 18 must be taken; unpaid leave has been imposed and the company
has decreed that all pilots convert
to IAA licences at their own expense (currently £363) or face a £500 per year punitive fine.
Compare Ryanair’s growth figures while those terms and conditions were being taken away. Ryanair’s profits grew every year (with a small exception in 2004) from £57.5m in 1999 to £480.9m last year. Passenger numbers grew every year, from 4.9m in 1999 to 50.9m in 2008, and are projected to be over 58m this year. Suffice to say, the pilots have lost while the company has gained.
Ryanair’s role in the
wider industry
As Ryanair pilots’ terms and conditions have decreased, the company has been able to gain a perceived unfair competitive advantage over other airlines which now have to consider reducing their terms and conditions or, worse, make layoffs to compete. In
other words, our inaction to stop this decrease in Ryanair’s terms and conditions over the years has led to reductions in the entire industry In Ryanair, pilots believe no thought is given to treating employees fairly, or what the cost of losing an experienced employee means to the company – but why would they? There are a myriad of hopefuls willing to produce the £30,000 up-front fee for a type rating; command upgrades are soon to have an application fee of £4,500. Ryanair does not need to care about losing someone experienced (and costly) because it can replace them with a cheaper (even profitable) person who will be willing to suffer hardships in order to get an airline job or promotion. Ryanair therefore does not need to care about its workforce – in its view, caring is costly. Not all airline managers are the same. Indeed some have voiced concern on these trends – it is not in their interest to reduce their terms and conditions but they have to keep competitive.
This is why what happens in Ryanair concerns everyone associated with commercial flying, because it is not only a diluting of terms and conditions, but could cause a trend towards lower experience levels.
BALPA has recognised this and has modernised its organisational structure to reflect the importance of the low-cost sector, allowing a greater representation from short-haul/low- cost operators in the BALPA council. It is important for Ryanair to have a voice on this council, so we might influence and make cases to change practices which affect us directly.
What is in store for future
Ryanair pilots?
Over the last decade Ryanair’s movement has been away from granting pilots ‘employee’ status towards favouring contract-based workers. New entrants to Ryanair are often not given a choice; once training is completed they are only given the option of taking a contract through a sister agency called Brookfield Aviation. Under Brookfield, pilots are classified as self-employed. In the past management has successfully utilised this division to pitch Brookfield pilots against Ryanair employees, however Brookfielders are coming to the realisation that they are not so much Brookfield pilots, but Ryanair pilots on weaker contracts. Brookfielders are contractually bound not to fly outside Ryanair; they are told when to work, when to take leave, can be laid-off at a moment’s notice but are not guaranteed a continuous source of income. As many of these pilots do not have a choice and are currently seeing reductions in their flying hours (therefore their source of income), they are a cheap and effective way for Ryanair to utilise its workforce (a seasonal hire-and-fire them approach). Projecting the current trend forward, there is a real possibility that Ryanair will do away with permanent employees completely – or at least to the point it is legally permitted.
This provides extra challenges for the campaign. Workers have fewer rights than employees, and because Brookfield pilots are seen as self-employed, their ability to unite under a single banner is restricted. If Ryanair continues to water down the mix of employees it may become much harder for the pilot group to unite. For this reason, BALPA and the campaigners in Ryanair realise the best time for recognition is now. Brookfield pilots can still support the campaign by signing the on-line, confidential petition (just follow the link at the end of this article). One of the targets for the campaign is to see that those pilots at least get the option to take up employee status. dignity
and respect
Ryanair continues to treat its employees as operational costs, not people. The professionalism demonstrated by Ryanair pilots cannot continue to be exploited by management. We are professional pilots. We deserve to be treated in a manner commensurate with our ability and responsibility.
As individuals we do not have the strength to challenge management if we perceive ourselves to be unfairly treated. This is why this campaign’s primary goal is to gain the ability to bargain collectively: strength in numbers.
A company that is willing to listen
and work with its staff to achieve amicable solutions has nothing to fear from its workforce. Pilots have a vested interest in the direction of the company; our jobs depend on it being successful; it is in our interests to reach solutions which benefit the company. With that being said, pilots also have a responsibility to themselves, their colleagues and to their families not to allow management to take them for granted. With a greater flow of communication between pilots and management, Ryanair can work cohesively to meet the demands of the industry, remain competitive and strive to provide a better service. It needs both sides to respect each other and engage in serious, grown-up discussions over where we want this company to be long term.
The Ryanair Recognition Campaign is being led by pilots in Ryanair, with the assistance of BALPA and backing of the NEC, which provides support and campaign guidance. Together we will speak for all Ryanair pilots and take their concerns to management and make them listen.
The time has finally come to take a stand. We are fighting for your right to be heard!
PILOTS JOIN  www.balpa.org   .........................CABIN CREW JOIN http://www.unitetheunion.org/



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