Talks on a resolution of the dispute between Ryanair and a group of its Irish pilots will take at least three days, it has emerged.
Ryanair and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (Ialpa) – part of trade union Fórsa – met mediator Kieran Mulvey on Monday in an effort to settle differences that have led to five strikes at the airline over the past month.
Mr Mulvey told the parties he has set aside three days, Monday to Wednesday, for the talks and he asked the sides to refrain from public comment during the mediation.
Ryanair last week proposed Mr Mulvey, a former chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission, as an independent mediator, following calls by Ialpa-Fórsa, which represents the pilots, for independent third-party involvement.
About 100 of Ryanair’s 350 Irish-based pilots held their fifth one-day strike on Friday in a dispute over base transfers, promotions, leave and other issues tied to seniority.
They joined pilots in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden in a series of strikes that forced the airline to cancel 396 of 2,400 flights, disrupting 67,000 passengers.
Ahead of the talks, Ialpa-Fórsa spokesman Bernard Harbor, predicted the process would be challenging for both sides but welcomed third-party involvement, which he said the union suggested weeks ago.
“The gap between the two sides is considerable but its bridgeable,” he said.
“Fórsa believes it’s possible to achieve a negotiated solution to this dispute.”
Mr Harbor said the threat of redundancies at Ryanair had complicated the issue.
Last month, Ryanair said its board had approved a proposal to cut the airline’s Dublin fleet from October, with the possible loss or transfer of 300 jobs, including 100 pilots and 200 cabin crew.
Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair's chief marketing officer, RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland programme that the dispute had gone to a third party because "five days of unjustified strikes by 25 per cent of our pilots" had not achieved anything.
He said mediation was more helpful than what he described as “unwanted intervention” by pilots from outside Ryanair.
“We hope that, with third party mediation, Fórsa will now take control of their side of the process,” he said.
“We hope that any unwanted interference by non-Ryanair pilots is removed. We hope that Fórsa take it more seriously and we ultimately hope that this process is successful.”
The trade union spokesman said no further notice of strikes would be issued during the negotiations.
“We don’t want strikes, we want the strikes averted,” Mr Jacobs said.
"We hate cancelling any flight or disruption to our customers," he said, adding that the airline was making good progress with trade unions through Europe.
The Irish dispute has been running since the beginning of July. Ryanair and Ialpa-Fórsa met twice in the early stages, but failed to make significant progress towards any resolution beyond agreeing to establish a working party to tackle the issues raised.
News of disputes involving pilots in Germany and other European countries emerged later last month. Germany’s pilot union, VC, is seeking pay rises while other groups are demanding changes to contracts.