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Ryanair threatens to remove several aircraft from Belgium in restructuring row

Illustration picture shows Ryanair planes at Brussels South Airport, in Gosselies, Charleroi, Friday 10 April 2020. (BELGA PHOTO POOL CHRISTOPHE LICOPPE)
10:47 04/12/2020

Amid a stuttering restructuring programme, Ryanair has threatened to withdraw half of its Charleroi-based aircraft and two from Brussels International Airport in Zaventem. The low-cost carrier issued the warning, which would affect seven planes at Charleroi, as discussions between the company and unions stalled over its plan to lay off staff in Belgium.

A conciliation meeting, which is expected to take place in a very tense atmosphere, is scheduled for Friday. Ryanair wants to cut 170 cabin crew jobs with redundancies expected to begin on 23 December. This proposal faces strong opposition from trade unions in Belgium as the Irish company continues to engage with its counterparts in other countries, notably Spain, in regard to hiring staff.

"We are concerned that the staff who will be recruited there will replace the licensed Belgian staff," said Yves Lambot, of the CNE union. "This is all the more challenging because people who are at risk of losing their jobs are currently largely unemployed due to the health crisis and are normally only paid the minimum wage. They therefore do not cost Ryanair anything, but they will have to pay compensation to part with them."

If Ryanair imports foreign workers, it will also have to comply with Belgian law. In the past, this has not always been the case, but the European Court of Justice has ruled that when staff start and end their workday, it is the legislation of the country in which their job is located that is applied.

In this context of uncertainty, Ryanair has therefore escalated the tensions by threatening to withdraw some planes based in Charleroi and Brussels. The company's objective appears to be, above all, to exert maximum pressure and reduce the salaries of the staff that would keep their jobs in Belgium.

"It doesn't seem credible to me," says Yves Lambot of Ryanair’s threat. "It sounds scary but Charleroi is a very important base for the company and if it were to decide to remove some planes, I'm not sure where it could relocate them and to whom it could possibly sell them in the middle of a crisis? Chief executive Michael O'Leary believes the recovery will take place in July. So, he'll need all his planes."

While the company is threatening to reduce its fleet, it does not currently plan to reduce the number of pilots. They agreed to reduce their salaries against the promise that there would be no downsizing. But if there are fewer planes based in Charleroi, which aircraft will they then fly? This is just one of the many questions the unions will be asking.

Written by Nick Amies