Ryanair investor Royal London to oppose re-election of airline's chair at AGM

Alexandra Rogers
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O'Leary said Ryanair would put up with strikes to keep fares ow (Source: Getty)

Royal London Asset Management (RLAM) is the latest Ryanair investor to pledge to vote against the re-election of the airline's long-serving chairman David Bonderman at its AGM tomorrow.

Royal London said it was concerned with Ryanair’s corporate governance and "poor stakeholder management".

"We have had long-standing issues with the independence of Ryanair’s board and with the extent to which the board can provide effective challenge to management decisions. The recent labour unrest, operational issues, and the decision to take away our voting rights under a hard Brexit scenario has crystallised our concerns."

The UK-based firm has also taken issue with the airline's proposal to remove voting rights for UK shareholders post-Brexit. Ryanair has said there is the risk that in the event of a hard Brexit UK shareholders will be treated as non-EU, forcing it to restrict the voting rights of non-EU shareholders so it can remain majority EU-owned and controlled.

RLAM says this contravenes the "one share, one vote" principle.

Ryanair has come under pressure from investors and customers alike following a summer of strike action from a number of pilot unions over pay and working conditions. They have also raised concerns about corporate governance, suggesting that Bonderman's 20 years at the helm is threatening the independence of the board.

Read more: Ryanair reaches agreement with three Italian unions over contracts

Last week the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) also said it would vote against Bonderman's re-election.

Councillor Ian Greenwood, LAPFF’s chair, said the airline had failed to address its "troubled relationship with employees and the potential impact on its business".

"Questions about the company’s business model and governance now pose a threat to shareholder value.

“Mr Bonderman has been chairman for too long and there are significant doubts about his independence. He has failed to take a lead on employee relations and making sure customers are happy. Ryanair’s employment issues highlight long-standing concerns about governance and in particular Mr Bonderman’s oversight role as chair of the board and his ability to influence the CEO, Michael O’Leary.”

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “Ryanair shareholders will pass all AGM resolutions by a large majority this year, including the nomination of directors and chairman, as they have done in all previous years. They appreciate how fortunate we are to have an outstanding chairman like David Bonderman guide the board and the airline.”

The media has been banned from attending tomorrow's AGM, with Ryanair saying it was so shareholders could "discuss all matters freely with the board without these discussions being distorted for PR purposes".

At a press conference last week O'Leary defended the airline's strike record, saying it was the price to pay to keep fares low for passengers.

"We are not Easyjet and will not roll over every time we are threatened with a strike," he said. "We do not want strikes but we will put up with them if it means defending our cost base."

Meanwhile, Ryanair cabin crew unions from five countries are scheduled to hold a 24-hour strike on 28 September.

Read more: Ryanair boss ramps up warnings of grounded flights after Brexit