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Ryanair Pilots Unite – Questionable Employment Model Challenged

Ryanair’s cancellation debacle has exposed structural deficiencies in its business and employment model and a deep disconnect between Ryanair management and its pilots. The public has seen Ryanair pilots state they are ready to support their company, but also that pilots are united in their call for deep changes in the way Ryanair employs and treats them – not least in line with the recent landmark judgment from the European Court of Justice. European pilots express support for their colleagues’ demands and back them wholeheartedly in self-organising as a united pilot body. ECA also calls on institutional investors to initiate structural change and work for an urgently needed social dialogue.

"As widely reported in the media, Ryanair pilots from numerous European bases sent joint letters to their management. These letters are crystal clear. Ryanair’s pilots are taking a firm and unified stance: they want decent working conditions and direct employment contracts", says ECA Vice-President Jon Horne. "They offered a helping hand to their company, to sort out this self-inflicted chaos that has left thousands of passengers stranded. In return, Ryanair pilots haven’t asked for a crude bonus. They want something much simpler – a direct and stable employment contract: governed by the laws of the country where they live and work; in conditions similar to other European pilots; and a meaningful, genuine social dialogue".

We are happy to see Ryanair pilots taking a firm and unified stance!

Ryanair makes systematic use of contractors and self-employed pilots providing services through temporary agencies, and often subject to zero hours (no flight = no pay). Such working arrangements have a negative impact on working conditions as they can have the effect of limiting access to fundamental benefits such as paid vacation, sickness or maternity leave. This provides flexibility and a lower cost base, but also a highly unstable pilot work-force – as demonstrated by the short time pilots stay at Ryanair.

This atypical employment model is now under pressure from investigations into potential tax and/or social security fraud, such as in Germany, and by the recent judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union. This CJEU decision ruled that Ryanair's crews can seek their labour rights in Courts other than Ireland, thereby refuting Ryanair’s rhetoric of “Irish aircraft = Irish employee”. Instead, the Court states that the ‘home base’ of crews is the most ‘significant indicator’ to determine the employee’s habitual place of work and which labour laws and jurisdiction apply to them. It will empower aircrew to pursue their rights in local courts and allow them to challenge questionable atypical employment set-ups under the laws of their own country.

This atypical employment model is now under pressure

“This European Court judgment cannot be ignored by Ryanair management, nor by institutional investors”, says Philip von Schöppenthau, ECA Secretary General. “As Ryanair’s management is busy finding quick-fix solutions, we call on investors to take a moment and think about the long-term sustainability of the company and one of its most valuable assets: the employees. We see today that planes – still – need crews to fly them and to bring their passengers safely to their destination”.

For further information, please contact:

Capt. Jon Horne, ECA Vice-President

Philip von Schöppenthau, ECA Secretary General

Tel: +32 2 705 32 93


Note to editors: ECA is the representative body of over 38,000 pilots from across Europe,
striving for the highest levels of aviation safety and fostering social rights and quality employment for pilots in Europe.