August 2015        

Ryanair defeated in Denmark’s Labour Court

Mary Greham

Ryanair will find it extremely difficult to get a plane off the ground from Danish airports after its recent catastrophic defeat in Denmark’s Labour Court, which ruled on 1 July that trade unions are within their legal rights in taking industrial action against the airline, notorious for repeatedly refusing to enter into negotiations on collective agreements with LO (the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions).
     The court upheld the LO position that all companies operating in Denmark, national and foreign, must comply with Danish labour law, a basic tenet of which is that workers’ wages and conditions are collectively bargained between LO and the employers’ union, DA.
     Three of Denmark’s biggest unions have long warned that they are ready to take action against Ryanair in support of the Airline Personnel Union. This would prevent Ryanair flights refuelling, getting luggage loaded and unloaded, or having food and other services supplied on board aircraft, making it virtually impossible for it to get its planes into the air.
     Relinquishing its base in Copenhagen will stretch the airline’s potential in a fiercely competitive discount market, make it difficult for it to implement important morning flights from Denmark, and weaken Ryanair’s opportunities for growth in Scandinavia.
     For LO the ruling is hailed as a “win for principle” and the most important Labour Court verdict in many years. For the trade union movement, the Danish labour market model, the backbone of which is collective bargaining, functions as a safeguard against social dumping when large transnational companies seek to establish in Denmark.
     Ryanair’s appearance on the Danish scene, with its blatant disregard for its own employees’ wages, rights, and conditions, inflamed the Danish trade union movement. Motivated, willing, and united, LO won its case, proving that good wages and conditions are things worth fighting for.
     Immediately after the ruling Ryanair announced that it would appeal, stating that is was “absurd for Danish trade unions to attempt to force collective agreements on Irish personnel who spend less than two per cent of their shifts in Denmark.” This process will take about two weeks, during which time no industrial action may be taken. No-one expects Ryanair to win the appeal.
     At a second press conference in Copenhagen on 3 July the chief executive of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, announced that it would be dropping any idea of a base in Copenhagen, moving instead to Lithuania, and declaring that he “won’t be bullied or threatened by Danish unions.”
     In a savage attack on the Labour Court ruling, which he termed “bizarre,” and on the trade unions, which he labelled “SAS unions,” further accusing Scandinavian Airlines of organising a conspiracy against Ryanair and of unfair competition, O’Leary maintained that there “is no requirement on us to negotiate with Danish unions under European regulations.” He accused the unions of threatening Danish jobs, which now “will be moved overseas,” he said. When pressed on how many actual Danish crew he employed, he answered finally, “fifty.”
     He warned that if Danish unions in any way attempt to block Ryanair aircraft flying into Copenhagen from other bases, Ryanair will close its operations at Billund at short notice. Billund, in central Jutland, lives on the traffic Ryanair generates, and if it leaves it could be curtains for the airport.
     The unions, for their part, refuse to be pressured on this point. They are happy now, as they have been since Ryanair appeared in Denmark, to negotiate an agreement with O’Leary.

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