Ryanair Faces Summer Strikes as Irish Pilots Vote for Action

(Bloomberg) -- Ryanair Holdings Plc is facing pilot strikes in its Irish home market next week, in what may become the most significant confrontation between Europe’s biggest low-cost carrier and organized labor to date.

A poll of Ryanair cockpit crew produced a 94 to 1 vote in favor of industrial action including strikes, a spokesman for the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association said on Tuesday, with the walkout set for July 12. The announcement, which confirmed a Bloomberg News report, comes as the Dublin-based airline’s busy summer season approaches its peak.

The Irish ballot is the latest in a series of labor battles flaring across Europe as Ryanair thrashes out new deals after agreeing in December to recognize unions for the first time in its 32-year history. Germany’s Vereinigung Cockpit is balloting members who fly with the airline in a dispute over pay and working conditions with the outcome due later this month, while flight attendants are also staging a series of meetings to formulate their strategy.

The Irish pilots will strike for 24 hours next Thursday, according to IALPA, which says it plans to notify Ryanair of additional walkouts “in due course,” while remaining willing to engage with the airline. Dublin is the carrier’s biggest base after London Stansted, with Ireland accounting for about 7 percent of flights.

Ryanair shares pared gains after news of the ballot’s outcome and were unchanged at market close in Dublin. The stock has gained 3 percent this year for a total value of 17.9 billion euros ($20.9 billion).

“Ryanair is disappointed by this strike notice which is unnecessary,” the airline said in a notice to customers on its website, adding that it had already sent draft proposals addressing the union’s concerns and had attempted to meet on 18 separate occasions. The company will contact all customers if the strike goes ahead on Thursday, it said adding that it had issued a 19th invitation to meet the day before.

O’Leary Warning

The vote, in a dispute about issues including Ryanair’s approach to transferring pilots between European bases and holiday leave, came after the company managed to avert an Irish pilot strike in December by agreeing to union recognition. The only pilot strike at the carrier to date spanned a few hours in Germany in December and passed without major disruption.

The switch to unionization marked a major departure for Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary, who once said “hell would freeze over” before that happened. Still, O’Leary warned in February that he was prepared to endure walkouts rather than bend to union demands that would threaten the low-cost giant’s business model and told investors to expect “localized disruptions” and “adverse PR.”

Ryanair agreed to accept organized labor after a scheduling mess-up forced it to cancel flights for some 700,000 passengers last fall, leaving it vulnerable to the unionization push.

Cabin crew from across Europe were due to meet in Dublin on Tuesday and Wednesday to draw up contract demands, while Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, Dutch and Italian attendants are discussing strikes as long as three days, with a final decision expected Thursday, according to Bruno Fialho, vice president of Portuguese union SNPVAC.

The airline’s summer timetable is already under pressure, with 1,100 flights scrapped in June amid air traffic control strikes and staff shortages that have affected the wider European industry.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.