Budget carrier Ryanair said Friday it is reversing its longstanding refusal to recognize pilots' unions in a bid to avert strikes in several European countries over the busy Christmas season.
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Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said the airline wants to ease customers' concerns "that they may be disrupted by pilot industrial action next week."
"If the best way to achieve this is to talk to our pilots through a recognized union process, then we are prepared to do so," he said.
Earlier this week, pilots in Ireland voted for a day of industrial action Dec. 20 and a union representing pilots in Germany threatened walkouts at "any time starting immediately" in disputes over pay and conditions. Italian and Portuguese pilot unions also threatened strikes in the coming days.
Ryanair said its offer applied to pilots' bodies in those countries, as well as Britain and Spain. The airliner, which insisted earlier this week it would not deal with the unions, said its new offer was conditional on unions in the six countries setting up special committees to deal with issues related to the airline.
Ryanair pilots in Italy suspended a strike planned for Friday afternoon after the company's announcement.
The airline had come under intense criticism in Italy for a letter to employees threatening action against anyone who strikes.
The Fit-Cisl union threatened legal action in response, saying Ryanair's letter violated the Italian constitution, while the government asked the company for clarification of its intentions.
Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda said on private TV La7 that Ryanair's move to recognize unions was not a concession: "It's the minimum, and not enough."
A spokesman for the Irish pilots' union, IMPACT, said it had received Ryanair's letter and was considering its contents.
Germany's Cockpit union welcomed Ryanair's move but said it is up to the airline "to underscore the seriousness of its proposal" and called on the company to agree to talks as early as next week.
Cockpit's chairman, Ilja Schulz, said that "as soon as we have received dates to start the negotiation process, planned strike measures will be called off."