Ryanair boss denies ‘slave contracts’

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Details of Ryanair’s so-called “slave contracts” for cabin crews based in Norway continued to emerge this week, revealing terms of employment far below Norwegian standards.  Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary vigorously defended the contracts live on national TV after their terms had been criticized in Parliament. He claims the criticism is aimed at diverting attention from job and pay cuts at rival Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).

Ryanair has landed in trouble in Norway. PHOTO: Moss Lufthavn Rygge

Ryanair has landed in trouble in Norway. PHOTO: Moss Lufthavn Rygge

It was the terms of the contracts themselves, though, that were raising the most eyebrows and shocking politicians, some of whom confronted Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on the floor of Parliament Wednesday and wondered why his government hadn’t cracked down on Ryanair earlier. The contracts are supposed to be kept confidential, but two dismissed flight attendants have turned theirs over to labour organization Parat and the media.

Ryanair technically leases its cabin crews from agencies that employ them. The contracts revealed by the dismissed flight attendants based in Norway thus were between the crewing agency and them, not with Ryanair directly.  Among their provisions, according to a rundown reported by Norwegian news bureau NTB:

*** While the employer can terminate the three-year contracts at any point, and with anywhere from zero to 14 days notice, the employee was subject to a charge of EUR 200 as an “administrative fee” if she resigned prior to 15 months.

*** The employee not only had to pay for her own training but also for her uniforms (EUR 30 was deducted from her paychecks each month for a year) and their ID cards. Any items consumed on board the aircraft was also deducted from her pay. If the amount of deductions exceeded her paycheck, the difference was due within 14 days and subject to interest costs and fees if overdue.

*** Hourly pay in one of the flight attendant’s contracts was set at NOK 122 (USD 21) per hour of flight time, with no extra pay for weekend or holiday work. Annual pay was estimated at NOK 115,000 (USD 20,000).

*** Participation in any strikes or demonstrations related to a labour conflict were grounds for immediate dismissal.

*** No sick leave was paid and any absence from scheduled work, regardless of reason, led to deduction from her paychecks. Twenty days of annual holiday had to be planned well in advance and could be cancelled at any time if Ryanair needed the employee to work. She could also be ordered to take a minimum of four weeks of unpaid leave every year to meet the company’s need to reduce staffing during low travel seasons.

*** The employee was also subject to a certain number of “stand-by” shifts and had to be able to report to work within an hour if called in. No compensation was paid for the stand-by waiting periods.

*** The Rygge airport at Moss, south of Oslo, was listed as the employee’s base, but she was warned that she could be moved at any time, and would need to pay the costs of her move.

*** All terms of the contracts were to be kept confidential. The employee was warned that violation of the confidentiality tied to the contracts would be seen as grave dereliction of duty and grounds for dismissal with possible legal action as well.

Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, flew into Norway on Thursday to address the allegations against his airline that have taken off this week. He continues to claim that Irish law and labour standards, not Norwegian, apply to cabin crew based in Norway. Norwegian authorities disagree. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, flew into Norway on Thursday to address the allegations against his airline that have taken off this week. He continues to claim that Irish law and labour standards, not Norwegian, apply to cabin crew based in Norway. Norwegian authorities disagree. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

The flight attendants suing Ryanair decided to disclose their contracts, though, and they were receiving broad coverage in Norway. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary firmly denied the contracts were akin to “slave contracts,” telling NTB that no one is forced to work for Ryanair. He noted that 8,500 people were working for Ryanair of their own free will, with 5,000 more on waiting lists for jobs.

O’Leary, interviewed live on NRK’s evening debate program Aktuelt Wednesday evening, claimed the allegations against Ryanair were coming from “two cabin crew who were unsuccessful and dismissed,” adding that they’re “supported by labour organizations who are in the process of agreeing  thousands of job cuts and 17 percent pay cuts at SAS (Scandinavian Airlines).” O’Leary claimed the complaints against Ryanair were “an attempt to distract from the job cuts and pay cuts in SAS.”

‘Must respect Irish law’
O’Leary, who later flew to Norway to address the allegations against his airline, confirmed that none of Ryanair’s workers based at Rygge pay tax in Norway but said that was because “Ryanair must comply with Irish law because we’re an Irish airline operating Irish-regulated aircraft, our employees are employed under Irish contracts and we must respect the Irish law.” He added that “if the Norwegians have trouble with that, they should take it up with the European Union or the Irish government.”

O’Leary also said that “parliamentarians say lots of things in Parliament that may be untrue. It’s very easy for an opposition politician in Parliament to make a false claim because he can’t be sued about it.”

He claimed he wasn’t afraid Ryanair flights would be grounded in Norway and said he had no intention of withdrawing from the Norwegian market. “Absolutely not, why would we?” he asked. “We’re growing rapidly in Norway, we’re the only airline bringing low fares in Norway and we’re the only airline that’s giving its people a pay increase this year. Why not focus on SAS cutting, instead of Ryanair that’s creating jobs in Norway?”

Union officials described O’Leary’s response to the criticism as “familiar tactics” to steer attention away from the matter at hand. The nature of the jobs at Ryanair remains the critical issue. The authorities and government ministers now vowing a review a Ryanair’s operations in Norway were due to meet on Friday.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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