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Ryanair offers talks on union recognition to avert strike

Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair has opened the door to union recognition for the first time as part of efforts to head off planned industry action by pilots ahead of the Christmas holiday period.

Ryanair has steadfastly refused to recognise unions, instead negotiating directly with pilots. But in a sea change it has today signalled its willingness to discuss union recognition.

It has written to pilot unions in six countries – Ireland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal inviting them to talks to recognise these unions as the representative body for pilots in each. But it says this depends on their establishing committees of Ryanair pilots to deal with the airline’s issues, repeating its stance that it will not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines in Ireland or elsewhere.

The measure comes after some of its pilots heaped pressure on the airline, already facing a backlash over the wave of flight cancellations stemming from its flight-rostering issues, by calling industrial action in support of securing union recognition. Pilots in Dublin had called a walkout for 20 December.

“Christmas flights are very important to our customers and we wish to remove any worry or concern that they may be disrupted by pilot industrial action next week,” says Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary.

“If the best way to achieve this is to talk to our pilots through a recognised union process, then we are prepared to do so, and we have written today to these unions inviting them to talks to recognise them and calling on them to cancel the threatened industrial action planned for Christmas week.”

He acknowledges recognising unions will be a “significant change” for Ryanair, but points to measures the airline has already implemented under its 'Always Getting Better' customer-improvement programme.

Ryanair came under fire for its handling of flight cancellations forced by its over-allotment of pilot holidays in September. While it initially focused on informing passengers immediately impacted by the flight cancellations, it was criticised for leaving others passengers unclear as to whether their flights would be hit.

In offering to hold recognition talks, the carrier appears keen to avoid a further dose of uncertainty resulting from a strike.

“Putting the needs of our customers first, and avoiding disruption to their Christmas flights, is the reason why we will now deal with our pilots through recognised national union structures,” says O’Leary. “We hope and expect that these structures can and will be agreed with our pilots early in the new year.”

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