British people do not want to be baggage handlers, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said amid planned strikes at Heathrow Airport.
The low budget airline has been ‘completely unaffected’ by airport chaos this summer which has seen others British airlines cancel thousands of flights.
Mr O’Leary said Ryanair was prepared for the return of pre-Covid levels of travel because it could see the ‘recovery coming’ and could take advantage of the European labour market.
And he added you could not get British people to do these jobs as they do not want to ‘pick fruit or work in hospitality, security and baggage handling at airports’.
His comments come as thousands of British Airways staff including cabin crew and engineers have threatened to plunge airports and airlines into yet more chaos which could see 1.8million customers hit.
Unions are asking over 16,000 workers if they want to join the more than 700 BA staff who have already committed to a walk-out at Heathrow over the summer holidays.
Ryanair is also contending with its own strike action in Europe as staff walked-out of the Irish company in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain this weekend.
British people do not want to be baggage handlers, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary (pictured) has said
The low budget airline has been ‘completely unaffected’ by airport chaos this summer which has seen others British airlines cancel 1,000s of flights. Pictured: Hundreds of suitcases continue to mount up at Heathrow Terminal 2
Passengers have had months enduring check-in delays, flight cancellations and baggage issues at UK airports with yesterday seeing another day of queues at Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Heathrow.
And many airports experts have pointed to recruitment post-Covid as the underlining issue which has caused chaos among the airline industry.
However, Ryanair – largely based in London Stanstead and Dublin Airports – appears to have escaped largely unscathed from the mess, according to the Telegraph.
Between May 7 and June 6, the low cost airline had three cancellations out of its 13,099 flights (0.02%) compared with 142 out of 13,010 (1.09%) British Airways flights. While easyJet had 16,425 flights with 636 (3.87%) cancelled.
Ryanair – which is based in Dublin, Ireland – has 19,000 staff which it recruits from across Europe.
Mr O’Leary told the Telegraph: ‘I’m not re-campaigning on Brexit, but the UK is going to have to find a way to open up the Labour market between the UK and Europe, to get people in here to do the jobs which frankly British people don’t want to do.
‘They don’t want to pick fruit, they don’t want to do agricultural labour, they don’t want to do hospitality or security or baggage handling at airports.’
He also said cabin crew staff – who need to be retrained over eight weeks if their working hours lapse – and pilots – who need to fly every month to not lose their licence – were in the sky ‘well ahead of the expected recovery’ as eight-week training course.
Mr O’Leary added: ‘We made sure, even if we had flights with no passengers, we sent up pilots and cabin crew.
‘We sent everybody flying at least once a month. We didn’t dump them all at home and say, “We’ll call you in 18 months when this is all over”‘
Those returning to Britain also faced possible disruption as Ryanair cabin crew staff began a three-day walkout in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain yesterday.
Mr O’Leary’s comments come as over 16,000 of British Airways staff including cabin crew and engineers have threatened to plunge airports and airlines into yet more chaos. Pictured: Stock of BA flight taking off
The biggest impact was felt in Belgium, where the work stoppage led Europe’s biggest budget airline to cancel 127 flights to and from Charleroi airport near Brussels between Friday and Sunday.
Ryanair could only guarantee 30 to 40 per cent of its scheduled flights at the airport, said a spokesman for Brussels South Charleroi Airport.
In response Mr O’Leary said cabin crew with annual salaries of £24,000 and £45,000 are ‘delighted’ to be back in their jobs and ‘working post-Covid’.
He added: ‘Everyone can afford to pay their rent. This idea that people are on minimum wage or they don’t get paid when they don’t fly – it’s complete rubbish.
‘He dismisses the potential disruption as affecting ‘less than one per cent’ of the company’s operations across Europe.’
More than 700 Heathrow check-in and ground-handling staff voted for industrial action in a row over pay. The GMB and Unite unions are expected to set strike dates for around July 22, when the school break begins.
LONDON STANSTED AIRPORT – A busy London Stansted in Essex yesterday morning as people queue to leave the airport
Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, said: ‘With grim predictability, holidaymakers face massive disruption thanks to the pig-headedness of British Airways.
‘BA have tried to offer our members crumbs from the table in the form of a 10 per cent one-off bonus payment, but this doesn’t cut the mustard.
‘Our members need to be reinstated the 10 per cent they had stolen from them last year with full back pay and the 10 per cent bonus which other colleagues have been paid.
‘GMB members at Heathrow have suffered untold abuse as they deal with the travel chaos caused by staff shortages and IT failures.’
And Unite is looking to add another 16,000 BA workers, made up of cabin crew to engineers, to the strike action.
The BA dispute is over a 10 per cent pay cut that check-in and ground-handling staff took during Covid as airlines tried to stay afloat. Unions want full pay reinstated amid cost of living pressure and surging passenger numbers.
MANCHESTER AIRPORT – Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 yesterday as airport chaos continues
A spokesman for Unite said, according to the Sun, ‘British Airways’ management now can no longer ignore the universal discontent across their own workforce, in the way they have ignored the needs of their own customers.
‘BA customers know first-hand that the airline is in chaos and that service levels are suffering as a direct result of its own previous disastrous ‘fire and rehire’ policies.
‘Staff are simply no longer willing to excuse, or pay the price for, poor management decisions.’
The GMB also said it has started a consultative ballot with thousands more BA workers, including engineers and call-centre workers.
A formal ballot for strike action will begin in a few weeks if enough support is registered.
It raises the prospect of summer disruption on an even bigger scale, as it includes workers at Gatwick airport as well as Heathrow.
GMB and Unite vowed only to call off the action if BA meets their demands within a week or so. If the BA walkouts go ahead, families could be forced to delay or cancel holidays – and face being stuck abroad if flights home are axed.
Unions only have to give two weeks’ notice of strikes. Customers whose flights are grounded will be entitled to receive a refund or be rebooked on an alternative flight on their day of departure, even if it is with a rival carrier.
But with airlines cutting their schedules due to staff shortages and airport flight caps, it is unclear whether there would be enough seats. It will inflict a huge financial blow on BA, which lost billions of pounds in the pandemic.
Some 550 BA flights a day take off and land at Heathrow, but this is expected to rise in the summer – and the airline is now drawing up emergency plans to keep as many flights as possible on strike days.
Around half of these are short haul and the other half longer distance – and the action threatens to ground hundreds of flights in total.
LONDON HEATHROW AIRPORT – Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two was very busy yesterday morning as Britons try to fly abroad
Downing Street said strike action would add to passengers’ ‘misery’ at airports and called for BA to put contingency measures in place.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘This is obviously a matter for British Airways and the unions and we would strongly encourage both to come together to find a settlement.
‘We don’t want to see any further disruption for passengers and strike action would only add to the misery being faced by passengers at airports.
‘DfT (Department for Transport) will obviously work closely to look at what contingency measures BA could put in place and we expect BA to put in place contingency measures to ensure that as little disruption is caused, and that where there is disruption that passengers can be refunded’.
A BA statement said: ‘We’re extremely disappointed with the result and that the unions have chosen to take this course of action.
‘Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of more than £4billion, we made an offer of a 10 per cent payment which was accepted by the majority of other colleagues.
‘We are fully committed to work together to find a solution, because to deliver for our customers and rebuild our business we have to work as a team.
‘We will of course keep our customers updated about what this means for them as the situation evolves.’
EasyJet’s operations in Spain also face a nine-day strike next month.
Britain could see a summer of strikes as unions representing other professions also flex their muscles in pursuit of inflation-busting pay rises.
The National Education Union has warned that schools could be next in line for strike action unless ministers stump up ‘inflation-plus pay increases for all teachers’.
Unions representing doctors, nurses, civil servants and postal workers are also threatening industrial action over pay.
Some have even demanded settlements of 5 per cent above inflation – which this week hit 9.1 per cent.
Last week, the militant Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) union held strikes across train lines in the UK, grinding much of the country to a halt.