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Friday 14 August 2009

How Tired is your Pilot? – 3

We might not use them as much as in the past, but the local travel agent – either a member of a large industry player or an independent – is somewhere that the uncertain can get advice, travel money, and holiday bookings. Many airlines have made friends with the agency industry, but not Ryanair. The air carriers’ equivalent of Millwall (everybody hates us and we don’t care) says that travel agents are “parasites”. It’s an unnecessary and unpleasant comment. But it’s all too typical.

Into this less than subtle news stream, as I mentioned recently, has come the attempt by BALPA to get recognition at Ryanair. Trades unions are not all of the same political stripe, and BALPA is a prime example: although affiliated to the TUC, its approach in discussions with employers, particularly in today’s less than ideal economic circumstances, is invariably pragmatic, as evidenced by its recent deal with British Airways, which saw pilots agree a pay cut. It would not be unfair to call it “moderate”: a body that can count Norman Tebbit as a past member would be most unlikely to be a hotbed of leftist radicalism.

BALPA would not be making their attempt for recognition for the sake of it: they have responded to requests from members within Ryanair. And this carrier does not want to play ball: union recognition has been routinely equated with base freezes and closures, enforced unpaid leave, and redundancies. Of course, Ryanair has every right to be concerned about activities that might impact the “bottom line”, especially in times of economic downturn. So BALPA took a gentle line with Ryanair and, conceding that the middle of the summer peak was not the best time for any kind of upheaval, gave them some space to have a think about it. What happened next showed that they need not have bothered.

Ryanair issued a press release in characteristic style, telling of apparently excellent pay and conditions enjoyed by its UK pilots. However, if this carrier really is operating a five on, four off roster, then if it’s also working pilots to the 190 duty hour per 28 day period limit, that works out at an average duty day of nearly twelve hours. Fancy being on board on the fifth of those five days? Also, there was the customary cheerful abuse, with BALPA being wrongly called a “British Airways” union (most BA pilots are not BALPA members).

But most significantly – and clearly calculated to inflict maximum damage – was the assertion that BALPA had abandoned their campaign. Ryanair got their press release into many newspapers and onto many websites: it became the received wisdom. Meanwhile, the softly softly approach continues.

I know to use this term – I’ve seen the correspondence. More later ...

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