EU warns Ryanair to respect worker rights as strike looms

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Brussels (AFP)

Brussels on Wednesday told Ryanair it must respect workers' rights enshrined in EU law, as the no-frills airline prepares for a strike by cabin crew later this week.

As the Dublin-based carrier cut the number of flights it plans to cancel because of Friday's walkout from 190 to 150, the company's combative chief executive Michael O'Leary met EU officials in Brussels.

After the talks, EU Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen insisted air crews should be employed under contracts from the country where they work -- a key demand of unions.

"Respecting EU law is not something over which workers should have to negotiate, nor is it something which can be done differently from country to country. I made this very clear to Mr O'Leary today," Thyssen said in a statement.

"The internal market is not a jungle; it has clear rules on fair labour mobility and worker protection. This is not an academic debate, but about concrete social rights of workers."

Industrial action is expected on Friday in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, though Ryanair insists the vast majority of the 2,400 flights scheduled will go ahead as normal.

Trade unions have claimed the 24-hour stoppage will be the biggest strike in the Irish carrier's history.

Ryanair staff have been seeking higher wages and an end to the practice whereby many have been working as independent contractors without the benefits of staff employees.

Another key complaint of workers based in countries other than Ireland is the fact that Ryanair has been employing them under Irish legislation.

Staff claim this creates exposes them to a risk of losing access to state benefits in their country.

The commission said it was "not the flag of the aircraft that determines the applicable law. It is the place from where the worker leaves in the morning and returns in the evening, without the employer having to cover the expenses".

In a statement, Ryanair said it considered the issue of applicable law to be "irrelevant" because it is in the process of striking deals with local unions with a view to applying national law.