Cabin crew union B.United was recently registered in the Czech Republic, representing direct Ryanair employees and agency workers. Only a day after they notified the company of the existence of the new union and requested a meeting to discuss working conditions, three union leaders were fired. They shared their story with us, taking us through their experience of working for the company, shining a light on Ryanair’s anti-union practices.
The main changes for us at the Prague base began in September 2019, when we started to hear rumours about a change in management. It happened about a month later, with a company change – now, it wasn’t Ryanair anymore that we worked for, but Buzz, its sister company. The crew received a memo, announcing a big meeting with the new management, just a day before the actual meeting. We were given a week to decide whether we wanted to sign a new contract or move to a different base. Many of us only signed the contract on the last day, trying to get clarifications on the content.
The lack of clarity is a constant issue with working for Ryanair. Sick leave, annual leave and bonuses are never calculated clearly and their payment not coherent, even when asked for clarification. Errors in our payslips are frequent, and getting any explanation about this is not easy. There is also a sales bonus that is a big selling point in the recruitment process, but when working, things change: it often doesn’t correspond to our records.
We tried to speak to management to discuss some of the main issues but never got very far with them. During one of the meetings in September, we were told that it’s Ryanair’s wish to keep the crew happy and smiling. That seemed like a very absurd statement to us – none of the workers were happy, and Ryanair’s actions were the reason for it. With the introduction of new management and new contracts, the working environment changed significantly. On 1 November, a lot of new people joined the base, many of whom just finished the training course with Ryanair, as well as some crew from other bases.
This is the time when the decision to organise a union really crystallised for us. With the help of and the Czech transport federation Odborový svaz dopravy (OSD), we created a plan on how to proceed. We started with only three people, but the group grew fast.
Organising at Ryanair is not easy, for several reasons. The company has created a patchwork of different employment statuses – direct employment, agency work and self-employment – meaning that workers have different pay, different entitlements, and different interests. In our case in Prague, union representation had to be doubled because there are technically two employers – Ryanair and the employment agency. Frequent staff changes between the different bases also make organising difficult, as people often feel like there’s no point in joining a union because they’ll be transferred in a couple of months. The company is also successful at creating a stressful environment, where anything can change at any time, and you always feel under threat. While that can motivate some to organise, it can also work as a deterrent, as people are scared of retaliation from the company.
Despite all this, we persisted, and now our union is now officially registered. We notified Ryanair on 28 May that the union exists and requested an emergency meeting on 1 June, since the company is currently trying to change conditions of our contracts. A day later, on 29 May, all three of us received some shocking news – Ryanair fired us. We see this as a direct attack on the right to organise of all Ryanair workers and as an extreme intimidation tactic.
With the help of OSD, we will oppose these, in our opinion, unlawful actions. Our only goal is the wellbeing of the workforce and the company. We hoped to be met with a willingness to negotiate and cooperate on the side of Ryanair. Unfortunately, precisely the opposite turned out to be true. Now we are ready to fight for our rights and ensure that Ryanair is held accountable for their anti-union and anti-worker actions.