Trade unions stopped short of calling off threatened strikes at Ryanair after the airline ditched its policy of refusing to recognise such groups.
Ryanair said on Friday that it wrote to pilots' unions in Ireland, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain agreeing to recognise them in a bid to avert strikes as millions prepare to fly in the run up to Christmas.
Two of the unions involved, Impact, which represents Irish pilots, and its German equivalent, VC, acknowledged the news but stopped short of calling off strikes timed for next week pending further clarification.
Up to 117 Impact members, mostly captains, were threatening to strike on Wednesday December 20th, while VC’s pilots planned action within days, as they sought to win negotiating rights at the airline.
In a statement, Impact confirmed that it had contacted Ryanair and sought an immediate meeting with management to “clarify issues and make progress”.
Spokesman Niall Shanahan explained that it was normal to seek direct engagement with a company before withdrawing any threatened strike action.
“Impact has indicated its availability to meet with Ryanair management today - or at any time over the coming weekend - to discuss theses matters,” the union’s statement said.
James Phillips, VC’s director of international affairs, cautiously welcomed the airline’s move but said that it was seeking firm dates for negotiations.
He indicated that VC would respond by Monday at the latest . “This was always about getting them to negotiate, not about strikes,” he added.
Ryanair pledged to change its long-standing policy of not recognising unions to avoid threats of disruption to its customers and its flights from pilot unions during Christmas week.
The airline said it would recognise the unions on condition they establish “committees of Ryanair pilots” to deal with issues, noting the company would not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines in Ireland or elsewhere.
Ryanair called on the unions to call off the threatened strikes on Wednesday next so that its customers could travel home for Christmas without the threat or worry of pilot strikes hanging over them.
Chief executive Michael O’Leary said recognising unions would be a significant change for Ryanair, but the company has delivered “radical change” before.
“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.
Ryanair's chief people officer, Eddie Wilson, said that the threat of rolling strikes in the lead up to Christmas prompted the airline to agree to recognise the unions.
"That was going to disrupt passengers," he pointed out. Mr Lyons added that Ryanair decided that unionisation was coming at some point, so the airline agreed to recognise the pilots' groups now.
He stressed that the dispute with the pilots was about recognition, not about Ryanair’s terms and conditions, which he argued were amongst the most favourable in the industry.
He also indicated that the airline was open to taking the same steps with cabin crew, if those workers approached the company.
Mr Wilson emphasised that Ryanair’s low-cost model was not going to change as a result of it changing its policy of not recognising unions.