A special meeting among state aviation authorities, government officials and labour leaders has resulted in a warning that Irish airline Ryanair is about to get unannounced visits from state aviation and labour inspectors. Recent turbulence around Ryanair, however, hasn’t scared off passengers, with ticket sales soaring during the past week.
“The inspection and examination of working conditions among the airline’s employees in Norway will occur as quickly as possible,” Trine Lise Sundnes of labour federation LO told reporters after the meeting on Wednesday.
Geir Pollestad, a state secretary in the transport ministry from the Center Party, acknowledged criticism from various labour organizations in Norway that state officials haven’t done a good job in monitoring Ryanair’s activity in the country. “We recognize that there should have been supervisory action around Ryanair earlier,” Pollestad said after the meeting. “It’s clear that we should have reacted earlier.”
LO has claimed that it’s “entirely unacceptable” that Norway’s civil aviation agency Luftfartstilsynet hasn’t conducted a single inspection of Ryanair since it was handed responsibility for such supervision from labour regulators in 2010. Sundnes has called the lack of inspections “a scandal.”
Pollestad and Norvald Mo of the Ministry of Labour represented the government at the meeting with top officials from LO and labour organization Parat. The unions have been harshest in the criticism against how Ryanair treats its employees, and Parat is supporting lawsuits filed by two dismissed flight attendants who have turned over their contracts under which they worked. Described as “slave contracts” by Parat, they reveal working conditions and pay far below Norwegian standards.
Ryanair officials and its high-profile chief executive Michael O’Leary have rejected the criticism, called the flight attendants’ lawsuits groundless and firmly denied that cabin crew on Ryanair flights work under “slave contracts.” O’Leary has also contended that his airline is not subject to Norwegian laws, pay levels or working standards but rather to Irish laws and regulations.
In an open letter sent to Transport Minister Marit Arnstad this week, O’Leary claimed that allegations his airline engages in “social dumping” are also without merit. He maintains that Ryanair’s pay levels and working conditions comply with EU rules governing free movement of persons and services in international aviation, and that Norway has accepted such rules through its economic agreement with the EU, known as the EØS-avtale.
As pressure grows on Ryanair, with state officials and law professors among those claiming O’Leary is wrong in thinking he doesn’t need to follow Norway law, the airline boss also has bashed “politicians and parliamentarians” including Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg over their claims that they won’t fly Ryanair, or their statements discouraging other Norwegians from patronizing the airline. This week O’Leary could likely feel gratified that Norwegians don’t seem to be paying attention to their leaders’ exhortations, given the airline’s double-digit jump in ticket sales.
O’Leary could boast a 12 percent increase in ticket sales since the latest conflict around Ryanair hit the media last week. Analysts say the increase isn’t surprising: “Lots of people have heard the noise around the company, which gives Ryanair publicity,” Espen Andersen, an assistant professor at Norwegian Business School BI who follows the airline industry closely, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “Folks will fly cheaply as long as they have the chance. They probably agree that Ryanair employees should get paid sick leave and be protected from immediate firing, but if it suits them as consumers to get the lowest possible airfare, the fewest will give that up for idealistic reasons.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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