Ryanair pilots in Belgium threaten to strike on 15-16 July

Ryanair pilots in Belgium threaten to strike on 15-16 July
Credit: Belga / James Arthur Gekiere

Ryanair management has until midday on Friday to make a serious proposal on pilot salaries or they will go on strike on the weekend of 15 and 16 July, the Belgian Cockpit Association (Beca), and the unions CNE and ACV Puls announced on Tuesday.

Tensions between trade unions and Ryanair have been increasing as the company continues to regularly circumvent its legal obligations as well as the sector and company agreements signed with staff representatives.

The current dispute centres on pilot salaries, which they are demanding to be restored following a 20% cut agreed at the start of the Covid-19 crisis to help the company stay afloat. Yet despite huge profits (€1.43 billion in profits after tax this year), these cuts are still in force and management refuses to discuss ending the measure.

Unethical and illegal behaviour

The Irish airline company has also announced to the Belgium-based pilots that it intends to terminate a collective labour agreement guaranteeing their current working hours and rest periods on 1 October this year. This was announced despite written confirmation from the Social Inspection and the Federal Public Service Employment that such a move was contrary to the law.

According to the various organisations, Ryanair is even going so far as to impose, as a precondition for any future collective bargaining, that its pilots first renounce their legal actions over its past failings. "This is quite simply blackmail of the fundamental individual rights of all employees in Belgium," the representatives denounced in the press release.

The pilot's unions underlined the "extreme patience" shown by their members until now, and have given Ryanair management an ultimatum until midday on Friday to make a serious proposal on pay. If the company fails to do so, strike actions will be carried out over the weekend of 15 and 16 July.

The strike actions could be followed by further actions until October 2024, when the Covid-19 collective agreement is set to expire.

"We apologise in advance to passengers who plan to travel with Ryanair between now and October 2024 and who may be affected by these strikes," the press release read. "But we can no longer allow Ryanair to violate the basic principles of the Belgian social contract."

"Ryanair must change its personnel management methods (pilots and cabins) once and for all if it wants to avoid putting its customers through catastrophic times again", the pilot representatives stated, pointing out that Charleroi is the second-most profitable of the carrier's 86 current bases.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary. Credit: Belga / Eric Lalmand

"We must also point out that the company thrives on social dumping by avoiding complying with the rules to which all other aviation players based in Belgium are subject, which also creates unfair competition with other Belgian and European airlines", Beca, ACV Puls and CNE wrote.

The Belgian Cockpit Association added that this repeated obstruction of social dialogue is accompanied by threatening letters to pilots who are ill and under medical certificates. "Pilots, given the weight of their decisions and their responsibilities, are the pillars of passenger safety. Trying to intimidate crews in order to maximise a company's profitability down to the last euro is simply unacceptable."

According to Didier Lebbe, permanent secretary of the CNE, the mobilisation among pilots is significant. A survey, in which 81% of them took part, was conducted over the last few days and 86% responded in favour of strike actions.

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