LONDON: Ryanair has made a dramatic U-turn and agreed to recognise pilots’ unions for the first time in its history, after it was threatened with a potentially-crippling strike just days before Christmas.
The low-cost carrier sent the offer to representative bodies in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal – the only time Michael O’Leary has sought such a deal in the 32 years of the airline.
One day of industrial action had been planned for Wednesday December 20 and would have mostly involved captains.
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.”
Ryanair’s offer is conditional on unions in the six countries setting up special committees to deal with issues related to the airline.
It says it will not deal with pilots flying for other airlines.
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.”
The threat of industrial action in Ireland was issued through Impact, to which the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) is affiliated.
A spokesman said it had not yet received any correspondence from Ryanair with the offer.
“Obviously, when we do we will be giving it full consideration,” he said.
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.