Belfast Telegraph

Unions willing to open talks after Ryanair boss makes U-turn

Trade unions are willing to open talks with Ryanair after the low-cost carrier made a dra matic U-turn and offered to recognise pilots' unions for the first time in its history.

The move was an attempt to avoid a potentially-crippling strike just days before Christmas.

It is the only time airline boss Michael O'Leary has extended such an invite to union leaders in the 32 years the company has been in business.

A one-day strike had been planned for Wednesday December 20 and would have mostly involved captains operating out of Irish bases but doubtless have a severe knock-on effect.

Trade union Impact, to which the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (Ialpa) is affiliated, had issued the strike threat but said it was open to talks with senior management.

"We have indicated our availability to meet with Ryanair to discuss the offer," a spokesman said.

In Germany the VC union said it was seeking firm dates for negotiations with Ryanair.

James Phillips, the union's director of international affairs, said: "This was always about getting them to negotiate, not about strikes."

Ryanair sent its offer to unions in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

It is conditional on unions in the six countries setting up special committees to deal with issues related to the airline. Ryanair warned it will not deal with pilots flying for other airlines.

Mr O'Leary said the pilots should call off the threat.

"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," he said.

"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."

Mr O'Leary, who has been outspoken about the role of unions at other carriers in the past, said he wanted to avoid the threat of disruption to customers.

"We have delivered radical change before," Mr O'Leary said.

"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 and we hope and expect that these structures can and will be agreed with our pilots early in the New Year."

Impact had warned Mr O'Leary that the threatened industrial action would either ground flights or generate substantial losses for the company.

It had been expected that the number of Ryanair employees involved in next Wednesday's planned strike would be fewer than the total number of Irish-based Ryanair pilots.

But because it primarily involved captains it had the potential to cause severe disruption as planes cannot legally or safely fly without the senior pilot.

The European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) and International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), which represent pilots and cabin crew in all of Europe's major airlines, also wrote to Mr O'Leary to say they are open to talks on union recognition.

Steve Cotton, general secretary of the ITF, said: "Ryanair must not stop at pilots' unions. Trade union recognition is a fundamental right of all workers and we fully expect it to be extended to all categories of workers."

Eduardo Chagas, general secretary of the ETF, commented: "The airline has wisely seen that this is an opportunity to change. What is needed is a serious reform of its employment practices."

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