Ryanair pilots intensify pan-Europe strike action

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London (AFP)

Ryanair pilots turned up the heat on the embattled airline Tuesday, with German pilots saying they were planning walkouts, while pilots in Ireland announced a one-day strike before Christmas.

The powerful German pilots' union Cockpit said members would strike at Ryanair for better pay and conditions, although they insisted they would not disrupt flights over the Christmas holiday.

And the Irish union Impact announced a one-day stoppage on December 20 over employee representation.

Cockpit said its pilots wanted "to force the start of talks to create employment and pay conditions for Ryanair pilots in line with the market."

Ryanair had a "last chance" to avoid strikes by immediately coming to the negotiating table, union president Ilja Schulz said.

The Irish airline, which is cancelling thousands of flights because of pilot shortages, said it had not been notified of any industrial action by its German pilots.

In Ireland, pilots directly employed by Ryanair and who are members of the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association (IALPA), part of the larger Impact union, voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action in ballots over the last week.

The industrial action was backed by 94 percent of pilots directly employed by Ryanair in Ireland.

But the majority of pilots used by Ryanair in Ireland are not directly employed by the low-cost airline.

- 'Ryanair surprised' -

"Ryanair is surprised that IALPA has threatened to disrupt Christmas week travel when IALPA's own numbers confirm that it has the support of less than 28 percent of Ryanair's over 300 Dublin pilots," a spokesman for the airline said.

Ryanair does not recognise any unions and insists on mediating discussions through its own employee representation committees.

"This dispute is solely about winning independent representation for pilots in the company," said Impact official Ashley Connolly.

Unions have long complained that Ryanair does not offer pilots pay and conditions up to standards elsewhere in the aviation industry.

Cockpit claimed pilots were leaving the airline "in droves" for the better conditions offered by other carriers, leaving Ryanair with a shortage of aircrew.

German prosecutors searched offices belonging to the carrier at six airports last year, part of an investigation into possible tax evasion and withholding salaries against two British temp agencies that supply the Irish airline with self-employed pilots.

In Italy, Ryanair pilots and flight attendants have announced a four-hour strike for December 15, while Irish and Portuguese aviators have announced unspecified industrial action.

Ryanair said last week that it would "ignore" the Italian pilots' move, saying its staff rarely heeded calls to walk out.

The planned industrial action comes after Ryanair said in September that it had to cancel 20,000 flights until March because of pilot scheduling problems.

Air traffic control delays and weather disruption also contributed to the cancellations.

Despite such difficulties, Ryanair said last month it still expected to deliver annual profit after tax of 1.40-1.45 billion euros ($1.65-1.71 billion).

burs/bcp/spm