Ryanair Scraps Flights as Irish Pilot Strike Tests Resolve

(Bloomberg) -- Ryanair Holdings Plc grounded more than two dozen flights Thursday as pilots in its Irish home market walked out after failing to agree to new contracts as part of a move toward unionization at the discount giant.

As of 6 a.m. local time, Dublin Airport’s website listed as canceled departures to 16 cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester, England, with a similar number of arrivals also scrapped. Ryanair had said it would cancel up to 30 of its 290 flights at Irish airports during the 24-hour labor action.

Ireland’s Forsa union said on Twitter that its members at the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association began the walkout at 1 a.m. as planned.

While the strike is the biggest Ryanair has had to face, the carrier said in a statement that the impact will be “limited,” with all customers due to travel on affected services offered alternative flights, ferry bookings or a refund. The trips scrapped are all on short routes to the U.K. where the airline generally has multiple daily frequencies, helping to minimize the strain on the network.

“We respect but regret the decision of 25% of our Irish pilots to go on strike, but believe that they should take up our offer of working groups so we can resolve these issues,” the airline said on Twitter on Thursday.

Most Ryanair pilots aren’t directly employed by the airline and therefore aren’t represented by the union and weren’t balloted for strike action, Bernard Harbor, a spokesman for the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association, said by phone on Thursday. The 120 pilots who were balloted make up more than 90 percent of directly employed Ryanair pilots in Ireland, he said. Of those, 95 took part and 94 voted in favor of a strike.

Forsa had said late Wednesday that talks with Ryanair had ended after seven hours of talks with “very little progress.” Negotiations got no further than a discussion of seniority issues and the possibility of establishing a working group, spokesman Niall Shanahan said.

Second Strike

The strike is only the second by employees of the airline after pilots in Germany walked out for a few hours in December without major disruptions. Ryanair has become more vulnerable to industrial action after a staffing crunch last year forced it to recognize trade unions, though Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary has said he’s prepared to endure disruption rather than bend to union demands that would threaten the low-cost business model.

Germany’s Vereinigung Cockpit pilot union is also balloting Ryanair members in a dispute over pay and working conditions, with the outcome due later this month. Spanish, Portuguese and Belgian cabin crew are due to strike on July 25 and 26, with Italian flight attendants joining the action on July 25. And IALPA has said it plans to notify Ryanair of additional walkouts “in due course.”

Union demands

  • A single "seniority" list that sets out how long each pilot has been working for the airline
  • Pilots to get more say about being transferred between Ryanair bases if they’ve worked for the airline for longer
  • Pilots who have worked there for longer to get priority when it comes to allocating annual leave

Airline response

  • Offers to set up a working group to discuss a proposed annual leave system based on seniority and the airline’s existing base transfer system based on date of application and rank
  • Wants "assurances that there will be no interference or involvement from competitor airline pilots" in its talks with the union

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