Common sense business is keeping your shareholders happy. Good business sense is keeping your customers happy. Excellent business sense is keeping your employees happy.
Ryanair have pulled the hat-trick in managing none of these.
Michael O’Leary’s almost satirically bad airline is rarely out the headlines. I can think of few brands whose “no press is bad press” approach to customers unaffectedly works. Even calling his own customers idiots had no effect on its popularity.
Why does he do it? Because simply, he can. Ryanair have a monopoly over certain routes. Wages are falling in real terms. If your only options are either fly Ryanair, or no holiday at all, your pride is traded for three uncomfortable hours of being punted scratch cards. Flying to most is a means to an end; if you can endure sitting in the same spot for a few hours you’ll be rewarded at the end by being somewhere different.
Not everyone dislikes him either. Read any comments section on Ryanair stories and they’re downing in smug comments. “I’ve never been charged extra”. “It’s not difficult to follow the rules”. “It’s your own fault if you mess up”.
To be a smug traveller though, it generally helps if you’re able to travel. Ryanair’s monumental series of cockups this last month meant 400,000 people failed to reach their destination. Or worse; they’re taken there then stranded.
Ryanair’s initial statement looked reasonable (we messed up and we hold our hands up). What they then tried to do is blame a "rota error", that their staff were at fault for wanting to use their annual leave. When no one was on their side they again tried to turn the blame on their workers - throwing up huge figures of £12k pilots refused to work their days off, in the hope opinion would turn against their staff.
Personally I'd quite like the person in control of the metal tube hurling 500mph in the air I’m sitting in to be well rested – and everyone seems to agree. It’s now coming to light the “rota errors” aren’t quite as they described; pilots have left the company en-mass in protest at the working conditions they’ve suffered for years.
As pleased as I am to see Ryanair taking a tanking (and not just because I've never won on the scratch cards) it doesn't last long. That's someone's long awaited break from work ruined. That's a family stranded from home. That's a pilot feeling guilty for standing up for passenger safety, and their own sacred time away from work as well.
There's been much narrative on what could be done differently to prevent this - and none of it lays at the feet of employees. Ryanair are one of the very few airlines without trade unions. As they're domiciled in Ireland they were able to take advantage of Irish law which permits trade unions have no legal powers. If staffs weren’t happy they had no bargaining rights. They had no one to fight their corner. Employee v employer is a David and Goliath battle that pretty much leaves workers at like it or lump it. And that's what they've done. lumped it. Even now Ryanair are refusing to negotiate with “unofficial” trade union groups, leaving the likelihood of this happening again entirely possible.
Trade unions uplifted workers with them. This is a situation that could have been entirely avoidable had workers been able to voice their conditions, and have an organisation listen to them. Don't treat your workers well they're out. No workers no customers. No customers no business.
The Tories work tirelessly to erode trade unions and the power they have. The Trade Union Bill is a living breathing example of this. If you can't see on a moral level why workers need trade unions then it's not difficult to look at Ryanair as a shining example of what business damage not having trade unions can have.
Blog by Catherine McGarrell