Summer travel season for Europe's low-cost carriers clouded by strike calls

PARIS • Europe's low-cost airlines face a summer of discontent as staff in Spain and France announce new strikes over labour conditions.

Trade unions representing Ryanair cabin crew in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have called for strikes this coming weekend, while easyJet's operations in Spain will be hit by a nine-day strike next month.

Mr Damien Mourgues, a representative of the SNPNC trade union at Ryanair in France, said the airline did not respect rest-time laws. The union was also calling for a pay rise for cabin crew, still paid at the minimum wage.

Cabin crew will walk out on Saturday and Sunday. Strike action on the weekend of June 12 to 13 already led to the cancellation of about 40 Ryanair flights in France - about a quarter of the total.

Ryanair's low-cost rival easyJet also faces nine days of strikes at the Barcelona, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca airports next month.

The union said on Tuesday that Spanish easyJet cabin crew, with a base pay of €950 (S$1,385) per month, have the lowest wages of the airline's European bases.

An easyJet spokesman said: "Should the industrial action go ahead, we would expect some disruption to our flying programme... (and)... we would like to reassure customers that we will do everything possible to minimise any disruption."

The strikes come as air travel has rebounded since Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

But many airlines, which laid off staff during the pandemic, are having trouble rehiring enough workers, forcing them to cancel flights. That includes easyJet, which has been particularly hard hit by employee shortages.

On Monday, the European Transport Workers' Federation called "on passengers not to blame the workers for the disasters in the airports, the cancelled flights, the long queues and longer time for check-ins, and lost luggage or delays caused by decades of corporate greed and a removal of decent jobs in the sector".

It said it expected "the chaos the aviation sector is currently facing will only grow over the summer as workers are pushed to the brink".

In Spain, trade unions have urged Ryanair cabin crews to strike from tomorrow to July 2 to secure their "fundamental labour rights" and "decent work conditions for all staff".

Ryanair staff in Portugal plan to go on strike from tomorrow to Sunday to protest against work conditions, as do employees in Belgium.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has been dismissive of the strikes.

"We operate two and half thousand flights every day," he told journalists earlier this month in Belgium.

"Most of those flights will continue to operate even if there is a strike in Spain by some Mickey Mouse union or if the Belgian cabin crew unions want to go on strike over here."

But Ryanair pilots in Belgium decided over the weekend to join cabin crew in a strike from tomorrow.

Meanwhile, staff at Brussels Airlines, a Lufthansa unit, have called a three-day strike from today.

In Italy, a 24-hour strike is set to hit Ryanair operations on Saturday, with pilots and cabin crew calling for the airline to respect the minimum wages set for the sector under a national agreement.

Ryanair continued to dismiss the strike threat, saying they were being called by minority unions.

"We do not expect widespread disruption this summer," an airline spokesman said, adding that it had collective workplace agreements in place covering 90 per cent of its European staff and was in talks to improve labour conditions.

"These minority union strikes are not supported by our crews."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2022, with the headline Summer travel season for Europe's low-cost carriers clouded by strike calls. Subscribe