Ryanair reaches ‘historic’ deal with UK pilots’ union

Ryanair and the UK trade union representing pilots have agreed a “historic” recognition deal following years of staunch opposition from the airline towards organised labour.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) said it had signed a voluntary trade union recognition agreement, with its reps involved in future negotiations on pay, hours, rostering and holidays.

Balpa said the move followed Ryanair’s announcement before Christmas that it was changing its stance towards unions in the face of threatened strike action.

Ryanair said it was willing to enter into discussions about recognising pilots’ unions in a number of European countries, including the UK.

Under the agreement, Balpa will be recognised as the sole trade union representing all of Ryanair’s 600 employed pilots based in the UK.

Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “Given Ryanair’s previous hostility towards unions, today’s agreement is an historic one.

“While we were initially sceptical about Ryanair’s sincerity in offering recognition to us and other unions, our conversations and meetings with them have shown that they are genuine in wanting a constructive trade union relationship.

“I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between Balpa and Ryanair and I urge Ryanair to agree deals with pilot unions in other countries and with cabin crew unions.”

The Ryanair chief people officer, Eddie Wilson, said: “This agreement validates the decision of Ryanair’s board in December to recognise unions, and the fact that we have delivered pay rises of up to 20% and union recognition for our pilots in our largest market, shows how serious Ryanair is about working constructively with unions that are willing to work constructively with us.

“This rapid progress in the UK is in marked contrast to some other EU countries where we are still waiting for a response to our recognition proposals and where some unions have failed to put these substantial pay increases to our pilots.

“We now call on these unions to stop wasting time and act quickly to deliver 20% pay increases to our pilots in February, and conclude formal recognition agreements, which they are presently sitting on.”

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary’s refusal to recognise trade unions was at the heart of the low-cost airline business model he developed, transforming a small Irish regional airline into Europe’s largest carrier by passenger numbers.

He has frequently dismissed pilots’ complaints and insisted on pay negotiations being conducted through company-controlled representative committees at individual bases. He was once quoted as saying he would rather cut off his own hand than recognise unions.

However, a shortage of pilots led the airline to cancel thousands of flights earlier this year, shifting more power to staff.