‘We are slaves with neckties at Ryanair’
… On the eve of the ‘biggest strike ever’ at the Irish budget airline Ryanair, we spoke with ten stewards and pilots. …
“I really like it at Ryanair. I have been working there for more than ten years, I am home every night and have one of the ‘better’, permanent contracts. But that does not detract from the fact that I have terribly disliked many things for years. If Ryanair wants to fly for long and happily, then it is high time for change.”
You hear a Belgian pilot who, unsolicited, emailed us an eight-page text, about which he doubted for a long time whether he would deliver it to the media. In it he explains why even well-paid pilots will join the strike to improve the fate of everyone at the Irish budget airline.
He is not the only one. There has been trouble at Ryanair for some time. After a summer of sharp conflicts in countries such as Belgium, Ireland and Germany, where stewards and pilots went on strike, unions in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Portugal announced ‘the biggest strike ever’ by cabin crew. It will start at midnight on Friday, September 28 and will last 24 hours.
Cracks appear in the divide-and-rule tactics that CEO Michael O’Leary has been using for years. Large differences in contracts (permanent contracts, temporary contracts and self-employed) and in remuneration between pilots and cabin crew, but also within these groups, had to lead to difficulty for the 14,500 employees, who are already spread over more than 80 bases, to form one front.
‘The fear culture is the biggest problem in this company’, the Belgian pilot writes in his text. “It is the strongest among the stewards, most of whom have temporary contracts. Renewal depends on an evaluation that is largely determined by the number of days orf sickness and their sales figures during the flights.’
Because of fear of reprisals, most of our interlocutors – a dozen pilots and stewards – wanted to speak anonymously, without releasing specific details. “Then they will make examples of us and we will have to explain it at the headquarters in Dublin”. it sounded.
“I earn 813 euros net per month, while I often work 12 to 14 hours a day.”
Sarkis Simonjan, steward
‘A few weeks ago I was called to Dublin for a ‘disciplinary meeting’, says the 31-year-old Belgian Sarkis Simonjan. He has been working as a steward for Ryanair in Zaventem since March this year and has already been on strike this summer.
“They asked me why I had been on strike and tried to intimidate me. But I will not let myself be silenced. I have understood their strategy for a long time. Making money is the most important thing. And I belong to the best sellers. That is the main reason why they keep me on board. If you do not sell well, then you can also explain it in Dublin.”
Stewards and pilots who are sick ‘too often’ also get ‘disciplinary meetings’. ‘If you are ill for more than eight or nine days a year, then you must explain it to the Human Resources Department in Dublin, even if you have a doctor’s certificate’, a Belgian pilot who has been flying for Ryanair for more than ten years says.
“They tell you that on average you are more often sick than the rest. And that you have to be careful because they will keep an eye on your performance. A fellow pilot had to explain in Dublin why he has used more kerosene on certain flights than others. Everything is being monitored. ‘
The main requirement of all stewards and pilots striking is that the Irish budget airline – which made 1.45 billion euros in profits last year – should respect the local labor laws of the countries in which they work, and not the less generous Irish legislation. But CEO O’Leary wants to stop that because he fears with concessions he will undermine his profit model.
An experienced Belgian pilot has been asking questions for years about the employment of many pilots at Ryanair. ‘More than 60 percent are so-called self-employed people. They are assigned an Irish bookkeeper and set up a firm with two other pilots whom they never meet, for example on the Isle of Man. They only work for one customer: Ryanair. The benefits are big for Ryanair, the disadvantages are for the staff.’
‘A pilot who is employed as a self-employed person earns a gross hourly rate. He has to pay all costs, such as transport and meals. If Ryanair lacks a pilot in Poland, then they can call an ‘independent’ pilot from Portugal, based in Stockholm, to get his suitcase, arrange a hotel and pay for a three-day flight. So, flexibility above all else. Fear is great. Everyone has to cooperates or resign.’
Eg, we did not find young pilots willing to speak, not even anonymously. They have a lot to lose, because they have pay off a heavy training debt to Ryanair and it is more difficult for them to change jobs than for experienced colleagues.
500 euros per month
At the same time, all pilots acknowledge that cabin crew in particular have bad conditions. Only a minority has a permanent contract, says 33-year-old Belgian Steve Lemmens, a steward who has been stationed in Madrid since 2009 and has already been on strike this summer. ‘I receive a basic wage, a fixed amount per hour flown and 10 per cent of the sales on the plane (divided by the four members of the cabin crew, ed.).’
‘I earn 2,000 to 2,500 euros net per month, which is good. But many colleagues conclude a contract with a Ryanair subcontractor, temporary employment agencies such as Crewlink or Workforce. They often do not have a basic wage and are paid per hour flown. We call that a zero-hour contract.’
“I have colleagues in Brussels who earn only 500 euros a month if they fly few hours”, says a 30-year-old Southern European who has been working for Ryanair for over three years. ‘Many are South and East Europeans who find hardly a decent job in their own country or who want to work in aviation.’ …
‘They lure people with false promises,’ says a Belgian pilot. “Ryanair claims that they can earn up to 40,000 euros per year. That is fake news, they never get it. It is easy to exploit youthfulness. Ryanair also deposits your salary only on an Irish bank account. The young cabin crew have to arrange all that themselves. There is zero guidance.’
‘Contact with management? That does not exist’, laughs the 30-year-old Eastern European steward. “They send us from pillar to post. When I want to discuss something, they send me to the manager of my base. He says he can not decide and sends me to the European ‘base manager’, who sends me back to my manager. That is the culture.’
‘If I have to arrange paperwork for payment of a disease, then I first contact the local authorities. They send me to Ireland because I have an Irish contract. They send me back to the country where I live. Ryanair uses the legal loopholes. That’s awful.’ …
‘They sell us a dream’, says Belgian steward Sarkis Simonjan, who has been working in Zaventem for half a year. “I did not know all that. I wanted to get started because I could always be at home in the evening. And because I was guaranteed a monthly wage of about 1,500 euros net, with extras per hour flown and bonuses for in-flight sales.’
“Do you want to know how much I really make? (shows a pay slip on his mobile phone) 813 euros net per month. While I often work 12 to 14 hours a day. We often say among ourselves: we are slaves with neckties on.”
Sales pressures also increased over the years, says Lemmens, who has been working for Ryanair since 2005 and has received written warnings when his sales left something to be desired. ‘After the flight there is a debriefing and you will be addressed if you have not sold anything. .. Ryanair also gives us tips how to sell more. Like that passengers are not allowed to sleep.”
“Whoever is faithful to the company is not rewarded for that, my salary has remained almost the same over the past four years.”
A Belgian board commander