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

Lisbon/London/Madrid — Ryanair flight attendants in four European countries said they plan to follow pilots in staging walkouts over the coming weeks as the Irish discount airline faces its biggest confrontation yet with organised labour.

Spanish, Portuguese and Belgian cabin crew will go on strike on July 25 and 26, Bruno Fialho, vice-president of the Portuguese union SNPVAC, said after a meeting in Brussels on Thursday. Italian flight attendants will join the action on July 25, while workers in Germany and the Netherlands won’t strike on those days due to local labour rules.

The unions set the first dates for strikes just a day after crew stationed at most of Ryanair’s 86 bases across Europe met in Dublin to draw up a list of common demands. These include access to unpaid leave, a living wage, fair universal pensions and an end to charges for food, water and uniforms. The strikes may involve as many as 5,000 attendants and affect 200 flights, according to the Spanish trade union SITCPLA.

For its part, the airline has said it’s in "extensive negotiations" with cabin crew unions. An e-mailed statement called the demands "pointless" because crew already earn up to €40,000 a year, get free training, sick pay, and a uniform allowance, and receive paid and unpaid leave.

Ireland walkout

The region’s biggest low-cost carrier already faces a pilot walkout in Ireland next week following a decision to accept unionisation in the face of a staffing crunch. Germany’s Vereinigung Cockpit pilot union is also balloting members who fly with Ryanair in a dispute over pay and working conditions, with the outcome due later this month.

The impact on flights and customers may be determined by Ryanair’s ability to source covering staff, something that’s easier to do for cabin crew than for pilots.

Ryanair employees complained about a range of issues at a two-day summit in Dublin that ended Wednesday. Their gripes included a requirement to open an Irish bank account in order to be paid, a pushy on-board retail policy toward snacks and scratch cards that turns crews into "sales staff," and a sick-leave policy that requires people to turn up at the airport to explain their symptoms. Ground staff are also seeking permanent deals, shorter hours and conditions in line with sector norms.

In a statement on Thursday, labour groups said Ryanair hasn’t met previous demands, such as applying national legislation to employment contracts and negotiating with union representatives, "without imposing any restrictions". They threatened further strikes "if Ryanair continues with this deadlock".

The carrier has previously suffered only one strike in its 32-year history, with German pilots walking out for a few hours in Germany in December without major disruption. CEO Michael 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.