Monday, 6 July 2015

The Walmart of the skies

Last week Michael O'Leary lost an important battle when a Danish labour ruled, if I understand it rightly, that workers at Copenhagen airport can take secondary action against Ryanair.

This is in response to the notoriously anti-union company's latest wheeze to avoid as many workplace protections as possible. Ryanair wants its Copenhagen-based staff to be subject to Irish law, which means that cabin crew get paid far less than Danish employees. The case in the Danish labour court was essentially seeking to determine what action was permissible if the company refused to sign a collective agreement. This time O'Leary lost. In his typically consensual style, in response he has publicly threatened to close Ryanair's other base in Denmark in Billund, though this may just be a bit of sabre-rattling.

In the meantime in response to Ryanair's behaviour several Danish investors have dumped their shares in the company, clearly in response to track record on labour standards. Disinvestment over labour issues is very rare in my experience, and the only comparable case of this happening in relation to labour issues in the global North is Walmart. So by refusing to compromise O'Leary is managing to turn Ryanair into the Walmart of airlines, not just in terms of its reputation, but in terms of the negative reaction from some large investors.

If you look at what has been happening to WalMart two things strike you. First, it has made itself into a target for long-running action, include strikes and sit-ins, by the employees it refuses to treat with respect. Second, in the long run it had to cave in and pay better wages, one of the key issues employees had been fighting over.

Ryanair just took one on the chin, it now has a choice how to respond. It is surely in the interests of all the company's stakeholders that - for once - it tries to work with its employees rather than against them. So if you work in RI and your institution holds Ryanair you might want to take a look at this.

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