With the threat of pilot strikes looming across Europe, the Irish low-cost carrier has bowed to employee pressure and says it will now accept unions for the first time. The unions have cautiously welcomed the news.
Ryanair announced on Friday that it would recognize pilot unions for the first time in its 33-year history in a bid to stop a pilot strike from taking place on December 20, as well as other industrial action.
The Dublin-based airline said it would accept the unions "as long as they establish committees of Ryanair pilots... as Ryanair will not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines".
Trade unions did not immediately call off the December 20 strikes in response to the news although they did leave the door open for the industrial action to be cancelled, pending talks.
Impact, an Irish trade union which represents over 100 Ryanair pilots, mostly captains, called for meetings with Ryanair to clarify precisely what the airline has committed to.
"Impact has indicated its availability to meet with Ryanair management today — or at any time over the coming weekend — to discuss these matters," the union said.
The German pilots union VC also welcomed the news: "This was always about getting them to negotiate, not about strikes," it said in a statement. An Italian trade union, Anpac, cancelled a four-hour strike scheduled for Friday on hearing the news.
Part of the union?
The move comes after pilots in several countries earlier this week threatened strike action in the busy run-up to Christmas. In particular pilots and ground crew in Italy were due to take action with their short strike later on Friday, to be followed by a 24-hour walkout by pilots in Ireland and Portugal five days before Christmas.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary's refusal to recognize unions was at the heart of the ultra low-cost model he developed to turn a small Irish regional airline into Europe's largest carrier by passenger numbers, so Friday's announcement represents one the biggest policy shifts in the airline's history.
The Irish carrier said it would hold talks with unions in Ireland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal to recognize them as long as they established a committee made up solely of Ryanair pilots, "as Ryanair will not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines in Ireland or elsewhere."
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"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," Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said in a statement.
"Recognizing unions will be a significant change for Ryanair, but we have delivered radical change before," O'Leary said in a statement. "We hope and expect that these structures can and will be agreed with our pilots early in the New Year."
In a holding pattern
The planned industrial action comes after Ryanair said in September that it had to cancel 20,000 individual flights which it blamed on a lack of standby pilots due to a failure in its rostering following a rule change by Irish regulators. Many industry observers said the cancellations resulted from a basic lack of pilots.
Despite such difficulties, the airline thinks costs would increase as a result of unionization and last month said it still expected to deliver annual profit after tax of €1.4-1.45 billion ($1.65-1.71 billion).
The airline is also seeking to capitalize from the recent collapse of smaller competitors in an oversupplied market. Austrian carrier Niki ceased operations on Wednesday after its owner Air Berlin went bankrupt in August. Short-haul British carrier Monarch Airlines declared bankruptcy in October.
tr/aos (Reuters, AFP)