By Conor Humphries
DUBLIN (Reuters) - A German pilots' union has told its members that industrial action against Irish carrier Ryanair <RYA.I> is likely to be needed to force management to overhaul the way it negotiates with its staff.
Ryanair does not recognise trade unions and instead negotiates with pilots via an internal collective bargaining system it says is recognised by Irish law.
Pilot unions say the current system does not allow for genuine negotiations and should be replaced with a pan-European system that allows them to properly represent pilots.
Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) union, which says over half of the Ryanair pilots working from bases in Germany are members, said in a memo to pilots seen by Reuters that it hoped it would not be necessary to hold strike action but "realistically it probably will be, first to begin negotiations and later if the negotiation stalls."
Asked about the memo, Ryanair said in an emailed statement that "these German union claims are without foundation."
"Ryanair and its pilots are continuing to use its collective bargaining procedures while German pilot unions waste their time issuing press releases," it added. Ryanair says it offers better pay and conditions than rivals.
The union has set up a company council made up of Ryanair pilots and one lawyer, which it said was a necessary step before a strike can legally be called.
It said it has asked Ryanair to start talks with the union on a new labour agreement and that Ryanair had refused.
A pan-European pilots group, the European Employee Representative Council (EERC), which has been set up in recent months by Ryanair pilots coordinating using social media, said in a statement to pilots on its website that industrial action "may be necessary."
The EERC group was formed the after Ryanair announced the cancellation of around 20,000 flights in September due to a shortage of standby pilots to ensure the smooth operation of its fleet of 400 planes.
Ryanair says it will not negotiate with the EERC which it has described as a front for "competitor pilot unions."
But several serving pilots and pilot unions say it has the support of a significant number of Ryanair's approximately 4,200 pilots.
The EERC statement called on Ryanair pilots across Europe to join unions, which would need to form national company councils as a legal requirement for industrial action.
Portuguese pilot trade union SPAC has also announced the formation of a company council, naming five serving Ryanair pilots as members in a letter to Ryanair management seen by Reuters.
Other unions are considering the step, with a spokesman for British pilot union BALPA saying such a move was "being actively discussed among UK pilots."
BALPA said a survey of its Ryanair pilot members found that 88 percent would be willing to take industrial action, but declined to say how many pilots had been questioned.
(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)