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Ryanair strikes to be suspended as warring sides go to mediation

By Anne-Marie Walsh

Ryanair pilots are expected to put their series of strikes on hold as talks to resolve a row over terms and conditions are set to begin on Monday.

It is seen as highly unlikely that the Irish pilots' union Forsa will set any further strike dates as negotiations chaired by mediator Kieran Mulvey get underway.

Sources have said that the airline may be asked to lift its threat of job cuts after issuing protective notice to over 300 Irish-based staff, as part of a deal.

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary asked Mr Mulvey to step in last week as a row over the pilots' demand for a seniority system to decide holidays and base transfers worsened. It is understood that he favoured an independent mediator rather than an intervention by state mediation bodies in the Republic. The airline's senior executives have described the state bodies' activity as "glacial".

The talks come as 55,000 passengers suffered flight cancellations yesterday, when pilots in five countries went on strike. It was the Irish-based pilots' fifth 24-hour stoppage.

Staff in Ireland were joined in their action by colleagues in Germany, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The war of words between the parties continued yesterday as Forsa blamed Ryanair for the fact that the strike went ahead due to a failure to recognise the need for a mediator earlier.

Ryanair said 85% of its flights operated as normal despite the "unjustified" strike action.

In a statement, Forsa said: "The company's belated recognition of the need for an independent third-party facilitator, which Forsa has been suggesting throughout this impasse, meant today's (Friday's) strike by Irish-based pilots went ahead.

"This demonstrates the company's lack of experience of industrial relations.

"Similarly, its threat of redundancies and compulsory transfers of Irish-based staff to Poland was a crude and ineffective attempt to frighten pilots into backing down.

"Instead it had the effect - predictable to those well-versed in Irish industrial disputes - of reinforcing their resolve."

Ryanair said 396 flights have been cancelled as a result, forcing passengers who planned to travel yesterday to rebook or take different routes.

A spokesman for the airline added: "Ryanair took every step to minimise the disruption and we notified our customers as early as possible advising them of their free move, refund or reroute options."

"The majority of customers have already been accommodated on another Ryanair flight.

"We want to again apologise to customers affected by this unnecessary disruption and we ask the striking unions to continue negotiations instead of calling any more unjustified strikes," the spokesman added.

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