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27 September 2019

STORIES - My name is Joao and I’m a Ryanair cabin crew member. I’m also a trade unionist – and this is why:

"Transnational action is the only way to make an impact when dealing with a company like Ryanair. And if you are a union member, you’ll never work alone."

After long and exhausting negotiations, our union (the National Employees' Centre of the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions, ACV-Puls/CSC-CNE) recently signed the first ever collective labour agreement for Ryanair workers in Belgium, obliging the company to comply with labour law and the sectoral agreement for aviation. This means that we are now classed as Belgian workers, with the same rights as any other worker in the country. Previously, at least in the eyes of Ryanair, we were considered as Irish workersand therefore subject to Irish standards and regulation.

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Now every crew member in Belgium is entitled to the sectoral minimum wage – beforehand, workers were earning way below that. We are now entitled to basic benefits under Belgian labour law, such as meal vouchers, reimbursement of transportation costs, and not having to tell our employer why we’re sick when we are. These are just a few examples of how precarious our working conditions were. They’re still not ideal, but at least now in Belgium Ryanair complies with the minimum.

The biggest challenge was to negotiate with a company that has a long history of anti-unionism and a non-organised workforce. It's difficult to organise Ryanair staff for various reasons. For one thing, the company continues to constantly ‘recycle’ its crews. If we look at Brussels, for example, probably about 50% of the crew based there is different now from what it was a year ago. And along with this high turnover, the vast majority of the cabin crew is not Belgian and many of them are waiting for a transfer. Most cabin crew employees join Ryanair with the intention of leaving as soon as possible, as they see this experience as a stepping stone in the aviation industry. This means there is no long-term commitment, and therefore a lack of interest in improving working conditions.

However, since late 2017 there has been a level of cooperation between workers not seen before in Ryanair. The strike action we took last year was transnational. It’s the only way to make an impact when dealing with a company like this one, which has more than 80 bases across Europe. Platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook helped us to communicate and put an end to the company’s ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. Ryanair workers are now more cooperative than ever, because we understand that this is the only way we can overcome our situation, which is common across Europe.

There seems to be an idea today that every right has been conquered and that there is nothing left to fight for. However, governments and corporations prove this wrong every day. When I was working in the Netherlands, for example, we had crew members earning less than 1,000 EUR a month, which, as you can imagine, is not a living wage in that country. Bear in mind that Ryanair is the biggest low-cost carrier in Europe, with net profits of over one billion euros.

Only through unity and organisation can workers improve their working conditions and have a say in their own present and future. If you are a union member, you’ll never work alone.

 

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To read more about the power of collective bargaining and how it is being dismantled, check out our recent publication, Collective bargaining in Europe: towards an endgame’.

To find out more about the challenges facing trade unions in Europe, our new book Bleak prospects: mapping trade union membership in Europe since 2000 is a must-read.

And if you’re interested in the situation of mobile and ‘posted’ workers, we have a new publication, Posting of working before national courts, coming out in November 2019 – don’t miss it!

 

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