Ryanair has offered to recognise pilots’ unions in an attempt to avert Christmas strikes in a “significant change” from its long-standing position.
The low-cost airline’s refusal to recognise unions was at the heart of the model that transformed the small Irish regional airline into Europe’s largest carrier by passenger numbers.
Its shares were down as much as 5% in Friday trading.
Ryanair’s offer came after the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (IALPA) had warned that its members working for the carrier were planning to walk out on Wednesday 20 December.
Such a move would involve half of the company’s pilots – mostly captains – forcing Ryanair to cancel many services.
Ryanair said on Friday it had written to pilot unions in Ireland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal in a bid to smooth turbulent industrial relations by offering talks on officially recognising the unions for the first time.
Such a climbdown had been IALPA’s only demand.
Ryanair says it was now demanding the threat of strikes is lifted from its customers – already inconvenienced by the company’s rota blunders this autumn that led to the travel plans of 700,000 people being scrapped.
However, the company cautioned that the unions must establish “committees of Ryanair pilots to deal with Ryanair issues”.
It said it would “not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines in Ireland or elsewhere”.
The union in Italy responded by suspending a four-hour walkout that had been due on Friday afternoon.
The Associazione Nazionale Professionale Aviazione Civile described the no-frills carrier’s position as a “very important first step.”
Others were yet to give their response but Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said: “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.
“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.
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“Recognising unions will be a significant change for Ryanair, but we have delivered radical change before, most recently when we launched Ryanair Labs and our highly successful Always Getting Better customer improvement programme in 2013.
“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.”