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BALPA Win For Trade Union Rights

by John Stembridge-King BALPA Head of Legal Services

At BALPA we always prefer to work in partnership with employers rather than to engage in lengthy legal battles with them. We usually aim to seek agreement through the tried and tested collective bargaining procedure. But when this fails – we will support our members.

Our latest legal win is a testament to this. Members employed by Ryanair have won an important hearing at an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) on all counts in a case that reinforces the rights of trade union members across all sectors. The overall legal proceedings remain ongoing with the main Employment Tribunal hearing scheduled for May 2022.

What was the case about?

The Employment Appeal Tribunal came about after Ryanair pilots took part in a strike called by BALPA back in 2019. Ryanair issued a threat that those who participated in strike action would have their concessionary travel benefits withdrawn. In what pilots argue was retaliatory conduct, Ryanair acted on its threat to penalise members for exercising their right to participate in a strike called by BALPA and withdrew travel concessions for 12 months for those who went on strike.

With BALPA’s support, the affected pilots complained that Ryanair’s retaliatory conduct amounted to an actionable detriment for members having participated in lawful trade union activities, and that Ryanair had created a blacklist in breach of the Blacklisting Regulations the Tribunal ruled in favour of the pilots on this issue. Ryanair appealed the decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Following a two-day hearing, the EAT rejected each of Ryanair’s grounds of appeal, finding in the pilots’ favour on all issues. The judgment of the EAT is of importance to the industrial relations landscape. It sends a clear message to employers that they should not subject their workers to unlawful detriment as a result of participating in strike action.

The EAT also rejected Ryanair’s arguments  about the lawfulness of the strike action that were previously rejected by the High Court in refusing its application for an injunction.

Ryanair has already appealed part of this judgment to the Court of Appeal and may appeal the judgment in full. If it does, BALPA, in funding the litigation on behalf of the Ryanair pilot claimants, will robustly defend the appeal and the rights of its members.

What does it mean going forward?

This is good news for members in Ryanair – and BALPA and other union members in general, but it’s regrettable that we’re still dealing with unresolved issues relating to the 2019 pay dispute when we would rather be working constructively with the company to address more immediate and pressing issues.

We hope that going forward we can build a less combative and more collaborative relationship with Ryanair. Our Company Council is already working on new negotiations.

At the end of most disputes, the employer and the union sit down and reach an agreement which resolves all outstanding industrial and legal issues. Sadly, this did not happen back in 2019 / early 2020, partly because events were overtaken by the pandemic

At BALPA we prefer to work in partnership with employers to avoid lengthy legal battles like this. But where the preference of an employer is to stray away from seeking agreement through the tried and tested collective bargaining procedure, we will always stand with our members.