Ryanair cabin crew are set to strike in four countries in late July, including in two of its largest markets, threatening to disrupt Europe's biggest low-cost airline at the height of the holiday season.
The strike plans, aimed at achieving improved working conditions, deal another blow to the Irish airline's attempts to quell a staff revolt that began last year.
Cabin crew in Italy and Spain - Ryanair's second- and third-largest markets respectively - are set to join colleagues in Belgium and Portugal for a one-day strike on July 25, five trade unions said in a statement on Thursday. Crew in Spain, Portugal and Belgium will strike for a second day on July 26.
Pilots and cabin crew at Ryanair began to organize following a wave of cancellations at the airline in the second half of last year, and in December the airline gave in to growing pressure and recognized trade unions for the first time in its 32-year history.
But management have struggled to reach agreement with unions on new terms and conditions in recent months. Some Irish pilots are planning to strike on July 12 and some other pilot unions have said they will consider industrial action this summer.
"Further industrial actions may follow in the coming weeks if Ryanair continues with this deadlock," the five unions said in a statement.
At the top of the list of cabin crew demands is that all contracts at the airline, which flies in 37 countries, be subject to local law rather than Irish law.
Some cabin crew have complained the current arrangements complicate their access to social security benefits. Others say they struggle to access credit as they are paid into Irish bank accounts but do not live in Ireland.
The unions are also demanding staff be free to appoint union representatives without restriction and that cabin crew receive the same terms and conditions irrespective of whether they are direct employees or hired via a third-party contractor.
The European Transport Worker's Federation has estimated around one-in-four of Ryanair's approximately 8,000 cabin crew are directly employed. Ryanair says many staff prefer to be employed indirectly.
"They just want the company to comply with the law and to be treated with respect," Monique Duthiers, a representative of Spain's SITCPLA union, said in a press conference in Brussels to announce the strikes.
The strike action is being organized by Belgium's CNE/LBC union, Spain's SITCPLA and USO, Portugal's SNPVAC and Italy's Ultrasporti union. The unions do not represent all cabin crew in those countries, but they have said other crew are welcome to join the action.
Representatives of the union said they expected 4,000 cabin crew to participate, a number that would imply significant participation outside of the four countries directly affected.
Ryanair has said its employment conditions for staff are competitive and often superior to rivals.
On Wednesday, it described a series of demands by cabin crew unions as "pointless" due to the overall attractiveness of staff conditions.
Cabin crew, a spokesman said, could earn up to 40,000 euros per year and had attractive working hours.
The spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Thursday's announcement. (Reuters)