The ongoing battle between low-cost airline Ryanair and its staff is not just playing out around the negotiating table, but also on social networks via viral videos and photos.
On October 15, USO, one of the unions that represents Ryanair staff, posted a photo on Twitter of a group of the Irish company’s cabin crew sleeping on the floor in Spain’s Málaga airport, after disruption was caused to Portugal flights due to the effects of storm Leslie. The photo soon spread like wildfire across the internet, and was used to denounce the company’s policies for its staff. But on Wednesday, Ryanair sent out a video via Twitter showing that the photo had actually been staged by the staff, and was not a real situation.
Today, Thursday, the union has admitted that the photo was a “visual dramatization,” but insisted that the cabin crew were left in deplorable conditions overnight.
The row is the latest episode in the ongoing battle that cabin crew unions are waging against the airline in a bid to secure local labor contracts – i.e. Spanish contracts for Spanish staff – rather than Irish ones. The staff have already held a number of strikes in a bid to force the company’s hand.
At the weekend the bad weather that battered the coasts of Portugal saw the diversion or cancelation of flights operating to or from Spain and the neighboring country. The USO union reported that, as a result, 24 members of staff – 16 cabin crew and eight pilots – had to sleep for 13 hours in the crew rest area, and that the company did not provide them with accommodation, meaning they had to comply with their “minimum rest time in those conditions.”
USO representative Ernesto Iglesias slammed Ryanair’s “degrading treatment” of its employees, failing to “find accommodation in the more than 88,000 hotel rooms in Málaga” for staff who had finished long work shifts.
Two days later, the union posted the photo of the crew members sleeping on the floor.
The same day, Ryanair argued that the image was “clearly an organized montage,” and added that “no cabin crew staff slept on the floor.” The airline did admit that, due to the storms on October 13 in Oporto, a number of flights had to be diverted to Málaga, and claimed that “as it was a national holiday in Spain, the hotels were full.” That was why, the company continued, its staff spent “a short amount of time in the rest room,” before being taken to “a VIP room.” According to the company, they returned to Oporto the next day, and “none of them had to operate on flights.”
The USO union says the shot “was a protest and a visual staging of the treatment that Ryanair gives its workers”
This version was backed up on Wednesday when Ryanair posted on Twitter the video, which was taken from the security cameras in the airport, and in which a group of staff members are seen getting on the floor in order to stage the photo of them sleeping.
The USO union reacted on Thursday by stating that the photo that it shared along with the denunciation of the situation suffered by the cabin crew at the airport “came from a reliable source.” However, it went on to admit that the image “was a protest and a visual staging of the treatment that Ryanair gives its workers and the zero respect it has for air security rules on rest breaks.” With the photo, the union said, “they wanted to reflect the treatment that they receive on the part of Ryanair.”
The union added that the recording shared by Ryanair was taken from the airport security system, and as such the images should not have been made public.
USO added that the video shows just a two-minute sequence, “but does not show how nor where the 24 members of the crew had to sleep, rest or eat during the entire time they were in the airport, where they didn’t even have enough chairs for all of them.”
Representatives for the Ryanair staff insist that, once again, the airline failed to respect legislation when it did not supply accommodation for its crew, something that it is obliged to do when they have exceeded six hours of work.
English version by Simon Hunter.