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Ryanair flights take off from Brussels Airport amid union protests

11:15 28/02/2014

Irish low-cost airline Ryanair began its first flights yesterday from Brussels Airport against a background of union protests. Unions representing workers at the airport in Zaventem were protesting Ryanair’s use of Irish labour laws for their pilots and other staff, many of whom are resident in Belgium. Because Irish social security contributions are lower, unions argue, this allows Ryanair to compete unfairly with other airlines, including Brussels Airlines, which dominates the airport.

“Workers cannot be allowed to be the victims of the rampant competition that exists between airlines,” the unions said, calling for all employers at the airport “to apply the existing labour laws, sector and company agreements and to make a priority of employee safety”.

The first Ryanair flight took off at 6.10 for Lisbon. The protest four hours later consisted of a march from the bus station to the departures hall, where the unions handed over a banner signed by all union representatives to airport management. Flights were not affected by the protest.

According to the Halle-Vilvoorde chapter of Voka, the Flemish chamber of commerce, the arrival of Ryanair at Zaventem is a sign of the troubled situation of the major operators already at the airport. That situation is caused, said Voka, by “long-established unfair competition” from the federal subsidy of €30 million a year paid to airports in Wallonia, including Ryanair’s traditional Belgian homebase in Charleroi.

Voka expressed support for unions protesting Ryanair’s arrival at Zaventem. “There can of course be no question of preferential treatment, and each company needs to abide by the social and labour laws in force,” Voka said in a statement. “Only in that way can we ensure healthy and honest competition at the airport.”

Meanwhile, an investigation by VTM News found that Ryanair frequently misses its target of offering the cheapest flights. Despite offering tickets out of Brussels Airport starting at €19.99 yesterday, Ryanair prices can be undercut by other airlines, in particular when flights are booked far in advance and when taking account of the supplementary charges imposed by Ryanair for options like heavier baggage and extra legroom.

photo courtesy Adrian Pingstone/Wikimedia Commons

Written by Alan Hope