It appears that every week now, a new Ryanair strike is imminent, stirring up memories of early August when the public was first fed the news that an Irish High Court injunction had simply shut down a strike by Irish Ryanair pilots. Of course, this was impacted by the complementary news that the equivalent strike among UK-based pilots due to take place at the same time was to go ahead. How could that be possible? Admittedly, in Ireland we don’t engage in industrial action to the same frequency as countries like France or Denmark, or apparently the UK in this case, but there must remain some sort of inherent, strike-culture mindset that would make it at least somewhat uncharacteristic for such an injunction to be passed in our little democratic republic?
On 21 August 2019, the Irish High Court passed an injunction to prevent any Irish-based pilots from striking later in that same week for issues regarding pay. The union responsible and the parent union of the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association, FÓRSA, was requested to return to mediation tactics so as not to dismiss the final holiday plans of thousands of Irish travellers.
Ryanair, in seeking an injunction (a court order requiring a party to do, or preventing a party from doing, a specific action) to prevent the industrial action, claimed that the strike proposed was a breach of an agreement signed by the parties the previous year following mediation after industrial action last July and August. Ryanair made further claims that there was no valid trade dispute between the parties and that the dates chosen for the strike were decided upon especially to cause major business disruption, as well as to coincide with the Ryanair strike organised by UK-based pilots. At the same time, FÓRSA argued that the strike ballot was fully compliant with the rules of the union itself as well as with laws associated with the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. They continued to express that they were in fact involved with a trade dispute which related to pay, adding that Ryanair had failed to engage with proposals made in March. Despite this, in his ruling Mr Justice McDonald stated that he was satisfied that Ryanair DAC was entitled to orders against FÓRSA in preventing the pilots from commencing a 48-hour strike at midnight on 22nd August.
However, Ryanair failed in a similar bid against UK pilots to secure an injunction against this strike. There was strong emphasis, in particular, on the fact that Ryanair was “foolish to bring this into the High Court rather than the negotiating room” (Brian Strutton, Secretary of the British Air Line Pilots’ Association). One might wonder why the legal right to strike was seemingly shut down in one case and welcomed in another, identical one.
But how was the injunction passed?
In Ireland, there is actually no general right to strike.There is simply a freedom to engage in industrial action under certain circumstances, which creates an immunity against any legal restrictions on these strikes, which means that trade unions are protected from prosecution if, and only if, the trade unions legally organise industrial action and if the action itself is lawful. This stems from the Industrial Relations Act, 1990, in which any members of a trade union who participate in a lawfully balloted strike are granted immunity from the specific actions and/or torts (civil wrongs) that they commit, provided that some conditions are met. One of these, as mentioned with Ryanair, is that immunity is only granted to acts done in consideration or continuance of a trade dispute (a dispute between workers and employers, which relates to employment or non-employment and/or terms and conditions of employment). Furthermore, even when such a dispute relates to the terms and conditions of employment or even the employment of an individual, if the agreed procedures for the resolution of individual grievances are not exhausted, immunities will fail to be granted. In the case at hand, FÓRSA argued that they were involved in a trade dispute and Ryanair DAC claimed that they were not – and they ultimately won.
Although the outcome of this case resulted in many happy holidaymakers able to jet off to enjoy their last moments of summer fun, it does encourage us to question what happens from here. The result is likely to leave a lasting imprint on our strike-culture here in Ireland – not only in legal precedent, but in the minds of the public themselves too.
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