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Ryanair recognition: the inside story

by Brian Strutton BALPA General Secretary

Sometimes, it seems, even a leopard can change its spots – and surprises can come from the most unexpected quarters. 

Last Christmas, Ryanair dealt us just such a surprise. For years the low-cost carrier has resisted negotiating with and even been hostile towards unions. In fact, only in September last year the company's Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said that “hell will freeze over” before Ryanair was unionised. 

So, when in December we heard reports that Ryanair was changing its stance on unions, I was sceptical about the company’s sincerity – I still didn’t trust them. In fact, it was only when we had received the official communication on the 15th of December, saw that Ryanair had repeated this to the NASDAQ, and met them face-to-face that I realised they meant it and what an opportunity this was.

But it wasn’t easy. We’re talking about Ryanair after all! Our discussions in getting to a recognition agreement have been very tough and required compromise on both sides. But we both focussed on the goal and came to an agreement. Ryanair signed on the dotted line and that now means that BALPA will have sole collective bargaining rights for Ryanair’s employed pilots in the UK. 

The next step on the journey is for BALPA’s Ryanair members to elect five union representatives to form a Company Council. Together with BALPA's professional staff, these pilots will lead future negotiations with the airline on issues such as pay, hours, rostering and holidays.

A ballot for an advisory group for contractor pilots not employed directly by Ryanair is also being held. 

I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between BALPA and Ryanair and I must pay tribute to the Ryanair pilots who have themselves brought about this change in attitude from Ryanair management – a reminder that members are the heart of the union.

As for hell freezing over… let’s hope this new dawn brings sunnier times rather than inclement weather!