Ryanair poised for first union talks

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Dublin (AFP)

Ryanair's management will meet for the first time Tuesday with pilots' representatives as the Irish no-frills airline takes the first steps towards union recognition and a significant shift in labour relations.

"Ryanair is moving to recognise unions, starting this week with meetings with Irish, German and Portuguese pilot unions," the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It will lead on in the New Year to meetings with other EU pilot unions and cabin crew unions in due course as well."

The low-cost carrier said it was making the move to avoid "widespread customer disruptions over Christmas".

Ryanair agreed to its pilots' demands for the right to unionise last Friday, amid threats of strikes over the busy pre-Christmas travel period.

"Christmas flights are very important to our customers," said Friday chief executive Michael O'Leary, who was anxious that passengers "remove any worry or concern that they may be disrupted by pilot industrial action".

Irish-based Ryanair pilots agreed to suspend a planned one-day strike Wednesday, ahead of meetings set for Tuesday evening between their representatives and the airline.

Meanwhile pilots in Italy and Portugal have also halted recently threatened walk-outs amid scheduled talks.

They called off the industrial action after the airline said it would recognise unions for the first time in its 32-year history.

The decision marks a historic turning point for Ryanair, given that O'Leary -- in charge since 1994 -- had vehemently opposed any union representation for staff.

He faced pressure after the airline was forced to cancel thousands of flights over botched holiday scheduling.

The fiasco triggered pilots' demands for better working conditions and representation, with some departing for other carriers.

Hinting at a conspiracy by its competitors, Ryanair initially insisted it had no recruitment issues as it pursues the goal of transporting 200 million passengers annually by 2024.

While management acknowledged the episode had "damaged" its image, O'Leary offered pilots some improvements in pay and conditions, including bonuses to those who would waive part of their vacation.

But last Friday, the airline announced that it would move towards recognising pilots' unions.

Following the move, Irish media has been left speculating whether it was the decision of O'Leary, or if the long-serving CEO had been forced into it by the company's board of directors.