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For Ryanair pilots fear works – until it doesn’t

When once asked about motivating his people, Michael O’Leary – true to his style to amuse the audience said: “I think fear works great”.  But many of his staff would agree he wasn’t being funny. The latest series of threats during negotiations with pilots – despite Ryanair’s upbeat forecast for growth and recovery from this crisis – is proof.

In a letter written to the CEO’s of Ryanair’s airlines last month, Ryanair pilots and their national associations from across Europe expressed their readiness to negotiate proposals to ensure the smooth recovery of their airlines from this unprecedented crisis. But they highlight that the negotiations on these proposals must take place in a mutually respectful and cooperative framework. 

“Now is not the time for inappropriate opportunistic behaviour,” says one Ryanair pilot representative. “There is no doubt about the unprecedented hardship that airlines and staff are going through as a consequence of this crisis. But with over 4 Billion in cash reserves and their competitive edge over other airlines, the demands Ryanair makes to their pilots are simply disproportionate”, they concluded.

Ryanair has asked its crew to take deep pay cuts and make concessions in working conditions lasting 5 years whilst boasting to investors about its rapid growth plans. Financial experts forecast that Ryanair will be back in profit within two years by March 2022, not least thanks to its strong cash position, low debt and strong leverage position in negotiating with airports and aircraft manufacturers/lessors.  While fears about price dumping and the effect on fair competition of State aid to certain airlines may be justified, the fact is that it will still likely be Ryanair who will offer the cheapest tickets in any such fares war.

The demands Ryanair makes to their pilots are simply disproportionate

With 40% of its schedule already planned to resume on July 1st and to ensure Ryanair recovers and grows quickly to its full potential, the proposals being put forward by Ryanair pilots and their national associations in their respective countries rely on 5 key principles:

1. Ryanair must make full use – where available and agreed with the pilot association – of the crisis job schemes offered by Governments to prevent redundancies.

2. Where agreed with the pilot association, the timeline for all cuts and reductions in working conditions will be directly linked to the airline’s forecast recovery.

3. Pilot associations and Ryanair must explore voluntary roster arrangements.

4. The crisis will not be used as an excuse to make staff redundant and replace production with contractors or crew from other airlines in the Ryanair Group. 

5. No redundancies being carried out aside from voluntary departure arrangements.

No-one is immune to fear and lately, there has been much of it around. But for Ryanair pilots, who are only too familiar with this strategy, there’s a tipping point when fear simply stops working. It was once reached in 2017 and – hypothetically – it could be reached again. Pilots are willing to play their part for their company, so the question is if the airline is willing to stand by their people and do the same.