Photo credit: European Cockpit Association (ECA)

On Friday 24 June 2022, Ryanair cabin crew unions in Belgium, Portugal and Spain announced a three-day strike over pay and working conditions. Crews in France and Italy were expected to walk out over the weekend while staff in Spain are set to strike on June 30 and July 1-2.

The unions are denouncing Ryanair’s failure to respect local labour laws covering issues such as the minimum wage and urge the company to improve working conditions. In Belgium, the ACV and BBTK unions said Ryanair was not respecting Belgian labour law for certain pre- and post-flight work. Indeed, workers’ contracts are not based on the legal system of their country of residence but only on Ireland – allowing the Irish company to be tight-lipped with its employees. In addition, workers do not always have access to public benefits in their own country because they are subject to Irish civil service law.

Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary had said on Tuesday 28 that union accusations were ‘complete rubbish’. In Spain, the government ordered the company to operate 73 to 82% of domestic flights over the strike period to maintain minimum services, obliging most to go to work. Ernesto Iglesias from the USO Spanish union criticized the measure imposed to the company, claiming that ‘the government's decision limited workers' right to strike’. One of the sign held by a demonstrator at the airports of Valencia reads ‘The Spanish government is an accomplice of Ryanair’.

According to the president of the union behind Portugal’s walkout, Ricardo Penarroias (SNPVAC), ‘a crew member is not even allowed to take a bottle of water on a flight’. In 2021, Spanish authorities have warned Ryanair that it is breaking workplace rules by forcing members of its cabin crews to buy bottles of water. Other reports show that Ryanair employees cannot declare themselves on strike and have to use up one of their days off to avoid reprisals from management. Workers are describing ‘a culture of fear’ with staff being forced to work in a completely vulnerable position. Ryanair employees have been trying to draw attention on their situation for years, with almost identical claims back in 2018. The company has seen a steady worsening of working and employment conditions, leading to a succession of strikes across different European countries over the last few years.

The Ryanair strike action comes ahead for a similar move by British Airways workers at London Heathrow, and adds to the air travel disruption across Europe as airlines struggle to ramp up following pandemic lockdowns. As demand for travel bounces back, airlines are struggling with staff shortages to handle the flow of passengers. Workers at several other airlines, including Brussels Airlines, are also planning strikes this summer. There are also signs of the unrest spreading to other sectors – French trade union CGT organized a one-day strike on Friday 24 June to seek higher wages for oil refinery workers after talks with operator TotalEnergies broke down. With inflation running at more than 8% in the euro area, demands for higher wages across sectors are worrying authorities, as it could trigger a wage-price spiral adding to inflationary pressures. European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde has warned that the longer inflation remains high, the more likely it will influence wage negotiations.