1998, Ryanair announced the offer of share options worth around IR£20 million to its 1000 employees. Ryanair cabin attendants earn commission on on-board duty-free sales and in-flight services, but as outlined, EU legislation to abolish intra-EU duty free sales threatens this powerful incentive. The absence of ‘free’ in-flight service has several beneficial spin-off effects - the opportunity for staff to earn commission for paid service, and a reduction in the extent to which the aircraft needs cleaning between flights, so cabin crew can tidy up the cabin and allow a quicker turnaround time between flights. Ryanair has been a newsworthy and controversial company in Ireland with respect to its employment practices, most specifically in its refusal to recognise any trade unions. Ryanair asserts that it will only recognise trade unions when a majority of workers have opted to join, an unlikely event in the foreseeable future. The company regards the heavily unionised nature of employment in its rival Aer Lingus as a huge contributory factor to the state airline’s historical lack of competitiveness. In early 1998, a protracted work dispute over union recognition and pay and conditions involving 37 of Ryanair’s 59 baggage handlers at Dublin Airport came to a head, when Airport security staff, also members of the same union, staged a wildcat strike in sympathy with the Ryanair baggage handlers. These actions closed down Dublin Airport for most of the weekend of 7-8 March. Still, Ryanair refused to budge on the issue, but agreed to co-operate with a government initiated inquiry on the situation without in any way implying union recognition. Subsequently, Ryanair dismissed three of the baggage handlers involved on the grounds that the workers had not shown a satisfactory attitude during their probationary period. While Ryanair discounts the events as a ‘fairly minor dispute’, the union regards it as ‘round one’. Ryanair’s stance aroused strong feelings on both sides of the issue. The company was criticised by the EU Commissioner for Social Affairs, by members of the Irish legislature and in the press. A Labour member of the Irish legislature called Ryanair ‘a maverick company which was practising capitalism dating from the last century’. 3 Editorials and government ministers’ statements were made to the effect that Ryanair’s behaviour posed a threat to the series of tripartite agreements involving trade unions, employers’ organisations and government that had created industrial peace in Ireland for over a decade and was deemed to be an important factor in the creation of a vibrant and growing economy in Ireland. However, those on Ryanair’s side claim that Ryanair is simply leading the way in facing the realities of international competitiveness and the alleged growing irrelevance of trade unions to effective enterprise and workers’ rights.
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- Fall '14