The Irish low-cost airline offers to recognise pilot unions for the first time in its 32-year history
Ryanair has offered to recognise pilots unions for the first time in its 32-year history.
Insiders say it is a last-minute bid to stop its first-ever pilot strike from taking place later on Friday.
Chief Executive Michael O'Leary's refusal to recognise unions was at the heart of the ultra low-cost model he developed.
"Recognising unions will be a significant change for Ryanair, but we have delivered radical change before," O'Leary said in a statement.
"We hope and expect that these structures can and will be agreed with our pilots early in the new year."
What Ryanair is saying
A spokesman said the offer of recognition is being made so far to pilots in six countries but "if other pilot unions who represent our pilots approach us, we will consider their request."
It is not clear if recognition will eventually be extended to other employees.
"If we are recognising pilot unions, then we will wait and see what comes in other parts of the workforce," Chief People Officer Eddie Wilson said.
What is the background?
The move comes after Ryanair pilots in several countries threatened to strike in the busy run-up to Christmas.
The first stoppage by pilots and cabin crew in Italy was due to take place between 1400 and 1800 GMT on Friday.
A source for Italy's main pilot union ANPAC has told reporters the strike has been called off.
However, Italy's FIT-CISL transport union, which represents fewer pilots and some cabin crew, says the planned four-hour strike on Friday will go ahead.
What about the other strikes?
It was not immediately clear if Ryanair's concession would be enough to stop a 24-hour stoppage by pilots in Ireland and Portugal on December 20.
The Irish carrier said it had sent a letter to unions in Ireland, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal at 0800 GMT on Friday to offer talks to formalise recognition and asking for confirmation that industrial action would not proceed.
The Spanish union SEPLA and its British counterpart BALPA say they are reviewing the offer. Unions in Ireland and Germany say they have not yet received it.
There was no immediate comment from the unions in Italy and Portugal.
A "toxic work atmosphere"
The pilots have mobilised in the wake of the announcement of 20,000 flight cancellations by the Irish carrier. The airline has blamed it on a lack of standby pilots due to a failure in its rostering following a rule change by Irish regulators.
Pilot groups have said Ryanair is facing a major staffing shortage. However, management have denied this.
Pilots's pay and some conditions offered by Ryanair is described as competitive but many complain of a toxic work atmosphere and say the collective bargaining system gives far too much power to management.
Ryanair's share price was down 2.4% at 1043 GMT. It is down over 4 percent since the start of the week.
Chief People Officer Wilson says there is no reason to think costs will increase as a result of the move, but declined to comment on how the events of recent months might impact profitability.