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Editorial: Ryanair - budget airline, budget staffing

Cutthroat practices can be seen as deplorable or a paragon of modern enterprise

Given Ryanair’s bargain-basement tickets, it was to be expected that, behind the scenes, the airline was squeezing every pip until it squeaked. Even all the extra charges – on luggage check-in, seat reservation and so on – could not be enough to support, say, a flight to Venice for £30, could they? Sure enough, between the insights from a former cabin-staff member, revealed in The Independent yesterday, and the pilots’ concerns that we report today, it is clear that the company’s no-frills model is not limited to its products.

Sophie Growcoot’s account of her time as a contractor for Ryanair, although disputed by the airline, makes painful reading. An hourly rate of £13.07 may not appear too miserly. But cabin crews are paid only while the plane is aloft. There is no money for time on the ground and staff must also stump up for training and uniforms. Factor in three months of (unpaid) winter holiday, and one day in five spent on call (also potentially unpaid), and that £13.07 is stretched thin indeed. Nor are cabin crews the only ones allegedly under pressure. Pilots are also employed as contactors only, cutting costs but upping stress levels, says the unofficial union, Ryanair Pilot Group.

For some, such arrangements are simply more evidence that the airline is deplorably cut throat. For others, it remains a paragon of enterprise that has opened up air travel to the masses. Either way, there is no suggestion that either the airline or Crewlink, Ms Growcoot’s agency, has broken any laws. More than anything, then, these revelations shed light on the reality of our employment laws.

Economic torpor has given the political right’s totemic war on red tape a new urgency. From Lord Young to Adrian Beecroft, there has been no shortage of high-profile government advisers calling for a cull of staffing rules. Meanwhile, Eurosceptics all too often give similar gripes a Brussels-blaming twist. The details from inside Ryanair must, surely, lay such simplicities to rest.