Michael O’Leary tells High Court he was ’surprised and shocked’ by pilots e-mail

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary told a High Court jury he was "surprised and shocked" by an email issued in 2013 by a pilots’ group which the airline claims falsely and maliciously said the company had misled investors.

Mr O’Leary said the email issued by the Ryanair Pilots Group (RPG), which he described as "a group of non-Ryanair pilots", had been an attempt to create division between management and its pilots.

He also denied the Ryanair employee committee structure, which negotiates pay and conditions at different airports around Europe, had not, in 2013, been representative of the airlines pilots because it did not include the majority who were not directly employed.

The court heard contract employees did not have a right to vote for representatives on the Ryanair committee structure.

Mr O’Leary was giving evidence on the third day of his company’s defamation action against RPG founders Evert Van Zwol, John Gossand Ted Murphy, claiming their email of September 12, 2013, to 2,289 pilots was untrue and defamatory.

The email was headed "Pilot Update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair" and stated the airline gave positive indications to investors the previous June which encouraged a share price increase followed up by a sell-off of shares by airline management.

This meant, Ryanair says, by innuendo or insinuation, that the airline misled investors, knowingly facilitated insider dealing, was guilty of market manipulation and had conspired with management to abuse the markets.

The defendants deny defamation and say the words complained of do not mean what Ryanair says.

Mr O’Leary said Ryanair’s reputation in the marketplace is very important to the company and it has always been policy to be truthful and transparent with investors.

The week before the RPG "Pilot Update" came out, Ryanair had issued a statement to the market warning profits for the year were expected to be at the lower end of the €570m-€600m range predicted the previous May in its annual report due to rising costs, he said.

When the RPG email was issued, his reaction was one of "surprise and shock because it accused us of engaging in market manipulation and that we were talking up the share price".

Thes allegation were untrue, he told his counsel Martin Hayden.

It was, he said, the "latest salvo by this group of non Ryanair pilots to try to create difficulty for Ryanair and its pilots". It was part of a campaign for union recognition and Ryanair’s policy is that it negotiates directly with its pilots "and everyone know that is our policy".

Mr O’Leary said there is a structure for representation on pay and conditions among all Ryanair employees called "employee representative committees (ERCs)" which are elected by the employees and operate from 86 airports.

Ryanair does not recognise unions and the Supreme Court had ruled that, as there was an ERC process and therefore collective bargaining, under the Constitution the airline cannot be forced to negotiate just because the Dublin pilots do not participate in the ERC, he said.

Ryanair does not recognise the Irish Air Line Pilots Association (IALPA) because it is "in reality a group of Aer Lingus pilots", he said. In its early days, Aer Lingus was "actively trying to put Ryanair out of business and its pilots were active in that", he said.

Under cross-examination from Paul O’Higgins SC, for the defendants, Mr O’Leary said although people are legally entitled to be members of unions "we have no idea who is a member or not, nor do we care".

Ryanair has 4,200 pilots and as of this year most were directly employed with a number on contracts, he said.

Asked if it was fair to say the majority of pilots in 2012/13 were on contract, he said he was not sure but thought the majority of captains would be directly employed while first officers would be on contracts.

Mr O’Higgins put it to him that as he was "a very intelligent man and one of Ireland’s most successful businessmen", if he did not know whether contracted people were in the majority, then he did not know if the majority had a right to choose their ERC reps. Mr O’Leary replied: "I don’t know what that has to do with was was published in 2013".

The case continues. 

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