Amidst growing concerns of cabin crew and pilots regarding their treatment by budget airline Ryanair, the company has of late been taking measures to placate staff from various markets. In early September the company accepted the formation of four trade unions in Italy, although on the very same day it refused to accept the appointment of the CWR Cabin Crew Union in Poland (CWR) to negotiate on behalf of Polish staff.
CWR was legally established and affiliated to the Polish Union Federation NSZZ Solidarność in early September. Workers launched the union in pre-scheduled meetings with Ryanair management, collectively withdrawing from the company’s employee representation system and demanding that it instead negotiates with the union on their behalf.
However, in a surprising turn, Ryanair’s management team immediately took steps to deny the Polish staff trade union rights. In retaliation, the airline told the Polish workers that should they wish to continue working for Ryanair Sun (the Polish subsidiary of Ryanair), staff would have to accept self-employed contracts.
Under Polish law, self-employed workers are not permitted to become members of trade unions.
Both the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) have expressed their concern at the airline’s tactics which violate international norms on freedom of association.
“After saying it would recognise trade union rights, Ryanair is taking a big step backward in Poland. This is a clear attempt to deny the rights of Polish cabin crew to trade union representation and collective bargaining,” said Stephen Cotton, ITF general secretary.
“On the morning of September 13 we welcomed a new union into our movement. By the afternoon, Ryanair had again shown its incompetence in dealing with both unions and workers. Ryanair lacks understanding of European law. We question whether the 2001 Employees’ Rights Safeguard in the Event of Transfer of Undertakings Directive permits companies to undermine employment standards in this way,” Eduardo Chagas, ETF’s general secretary, said at a press conference.
Adding further insult to injury for Polish workers, Ryanair has announced that as of January 1, 2019, the company would withdraw from Poland, and it would be replaced by a newly registered company: Warsaw Aviation, which according to Rynek Lotniczy, a Polish portal that covers news related to the aviation industry, only has one employee at present: Michał Kaczmarzyk, who is also the president of Ryanair Sun.
This means that employees, previously employed in the Irish system under a contract of employment, will be obligated to move to Poland and set up their own business. Which in turn means depriving members of social protection from the current employer and a radical reduction of future pension benefits. Staff would also effectively not be entitled to paid sick leave or maternity leave.
“We earn 40 per cent less than crews from other countries on the same flights, it is clear that we are a secondary country and an experimental field for Ryanair. We calculated that in order to continue to have retirement benefits at the same level of those offered to us in Ireland, we would have to pay 5,000 zloty per month to the Polish social security system, ” Justyna Boczkur, chair of CWR Poland, told Rynek Lotniczy.
Olga Pawlonka, a spokesperson for Ryanair Sun, said: “We are planning a further development of the fleet and jobs at Ryanair Sun, which in the first year of its operation has been successful and brings profits.”
“Ryanair management is showing its ineptitude with these infantile union-busting tactics. These are not the actions of a mature company with a sustainable approach to industrial relations. This is further evidence of why the Board needs a new Chair to move the company forward,” concluded Mr Cotton.