Travellers wait in front of a passenger jet belonging to Irish discount airline Ryanair at Charleroi airport in southern Belgium. Picture: REUTERS
Travellers wait in front of a passenger jet belonging to Irish discount airline Ryanair at Charleroi airport in southern Belgium. Picture: REUTERS

Brussels — On Wednesday, the European Commission ordered Ryanair to respect EU rules by giving workers contracts in the country they live rather than in Ireland where its planes are registered.

Europe’s largest low-cost carrier has traditionally employed a significant proportion of its staff under Irish law, which unions say inconveniences staff and impedes them from accessing local social security benefits.

After a meeting with European employment commissioner Marianne Thyssen, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said the demand was “irrelevant” as the company has already written to unions in all EU countries offering to move staff to local contracts.

Since announcing in December last year that it will recognise trade unions for the first time in its 30-year history, Ryanair has accelerated a shift from Irish to local contracts as part of recognition talks with various unions. But the unions have held a series of strikes in recent months, citing disagreements over terms including, in several cases, the question of local contracts.

Ryanair cancelled 150 flights on Friday due to the latest strike, by cabin crews in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

At a meeting in Brussels, commissioner Thyssen told O’Leary that EU rules on employment for mobile air crews are clear — based not on the flag of the aircraft, but the place where workers left in the morning and returned in the evening. “Respecting the law is not something over which workers should have to negotiate and not something that can be postponed to a later date,” Thyssen said in a statement.

In response, Ryanair published the terms of its offer to staff, including an offer of local contracts. “The issue of applicable law is irrelevant in Ryanair’s case since Ryanair has already written to the unions in Belgium (and all other EU countries) offering to agree the implementation of [Belgian] law, social taxes and court jurisdiction by agreement with the national unions,” O’Leary said in a statement.

Belgian union CNE said the airline has agreed to follow local employment law, but only from March 2020 and that this change will only affect about half of its workers.

Competition complaint

Ryanair also said on Wednesday that it has submitted a complaint to the European Commission citing “anti-competitive behaviours” over employees of other airlines being  involved in calling strikes in several countries across Europe. It called on the commission to investigate the “collective campaign”, which it said included the European Cockpit Association and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

“Ryanair’s business is being damaged by unnecessary strikes and disruptive interference in our bona fide union negotiations, promoted and co-ordinated by competitor airline employees, their unions and lobby groups,” the airline said in a statement.

Unions have said union members from other airlines have been assisting Ryanair staff due to them having a number of years of experience in dealing with union negotiations while most Ryanair staff have very little.

Ryanair’s share price was up 0.5% at 1.55pm GMT on Wednesday at €13.06, but down 17% compared with three months ago, since when it has faced repeated strikes and an increase in the oil price.