Belgian Ryanair staff threaten to strike over holiday season

Belgian Ryanair staff threaten to strike over holiday season
Ryanair plane at Charleroi Airport. Credit: Belga

The Belgian-based staff of low-cost Irish airline Ryanair are threatening to go on strike over the holiday season in an ongoing row about working conditions at the company. According to Christian workers' unions ACV Puls and CNE, the airline “continues to flout the law and no one is doing anything,” it warned on Monday.

In an open letter penned to Minister of Employment Pierre-Yves Dermagne and Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, union representatives decried Ryanair’s treatment of its workers in Belgium. Ryanair staff have gone on strike numerous times in recent years, unable to reach an agreement with their employer.

While worker conditions improved after initial strikes in 2018, the union says that the company’s labour law violations have continued.

Despite inspections by regional authorities and the National Office for Social Security (ONSS), union representatives state that no action has been taken by judicial authorities against Ryanair. “Completely incomprehensible,” complained Didier Lebbe, representative of the CNE.

“Recently, Ryanair decided to close- temporarily according to them- the Brussels base (Zaventem Airport). The base workers had been offered to work in Charleroi. But subsequently, Ryanair changed its mind and decided to make them work in blocks of a few days in other European bases. This is completely illegal,” Lebbe said.

Bad blood

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary cited striking Belgian workers as one of the reasons for his departure from the hub near Brussels. He accuses Belgian unions of refusing to negotiate and going back on agreements reached with the company in 2020.

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There is a long history of bad blood between Belgian unions, the government, and Ryanair. O’Leary has previously told striking workers to “shut up and go to work” and has berated Belgium as a country where “striking is a national hobby… a favourite pastime.”

Union representatives say that many cabin crew and employees have young families, and cannot simply work in a place outside of the company’s Belgian bases. They also accuse the company of exploiting its monopoly position and treating employees as “pawns.”

CNE and ACV Puls are now actively appealing to the two federal ministers to step in and protect the rights of Ryanair workers, and avoid a winter strike.

“The end-of-year celebrations are approaching and, if nothing moves on the side of Ryanair or the Belgian authorities, there is a good chance that staff will express their anger on this occasion, via social action,” the two unions warned.

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