Things could be about to get even worse for passengers on Europe’s biggest airline, Ryanair.
The company has already angered thousands of customers by cancelling up to 50 flights a day for the next six weeks, after being left short-staffed by a botched revamp of its internal vacation planning. That has affected over 300,000 customers, although the airline stresses that it’s only 2% of its total flights in the period.
But it appears that the cancellations could be only the first exchange in a battle with cabin staff—especially pilots—over working conditions, one that has been simmering for years.
The Guardian reported on Thursday that the Ireland-based budget carrier’s pilots are set to reject the offer of a one-off payment of up to 12,000 pounds ($18,000) tax-free in exchange for accumulated vacation time, and instead implement a “work to rule” in a quest for permanently improved working conditions. “Working to rule” involves refusing to go beyond the basic terms of an employment contract by, for example, working overtime to fill in for missing colleagues, or turning up early for shifts.
“The continued erosion of the pilots’ terms and conditions over the past 10 to 15 years has to be not only stopped but reversed,” says a draft letter from pilots’ representatives to the airline, according to The Guardian.
Ryanair has traditionally employed many of its pilots though an outside agency, a status that leaves them with little bargaining power because it makes it easier for the airline to let them go. However, the airline’s current predicament offers pilots a rare chance to take action, because the airline can’t afford to lose any more of them if it wants to contain a growing PR crisis.
By a coincidence, Ryanair is holding its annual shareholder meeting in Dublin on Thursday. The company’s stock price has fallen 10% since the flight cancellation scandal blew up last week, on concerns that the airline will end up with permanently higher costs that will hit its profits. The stock was down another 2.3% in early trading in Europe on Thursday.