Ryanair pilots in Germany went on strike Friday morning after union talks with management fell apart, another blow to the reputation of Europe’s largest budget airline, which in recent months has canceled more than 20,000 flights.
The four-hour strike, the first for the Dublin-based discount airline, had threatened to disrupt the busy holiday traveling season.
Pilots in other European countries, including Ireland and Italy, had also threatened to walk off the job.
But the company agreed last week to change its longstanding position and recognize pilots’ unions for the first time. Ryanair’s announcement was seen as an indication that it would need to start grappling with the same labor costs and issues as its legacy competitors.
In anticipation of a German strike, Robin Kiely, the head of communications for Ryanair, said in a statement on Thursday, “We advise all customers in Germany to turn up as normal tomorrow, as we plan to operate all scheduled flights.”
The statement added, “We will be doing our upmost to minimize any disruptions to the Christmas travel plans of our German customers.”
The German union Vereinigung Cockpit on Thursday called for the strike, saying negotiations with Ryanair had been unsatisfactory. The union said that further talks with management were canceled because the airline rejected the inclusion of two people on the council formed to represent pilots in the negotiations.
The move indicated that the company was not interested in serious negotiations with organized pilots, the union said.
“Ryanair’s public offer to conduct negotiations with V.C. can only be classified as a further publicity stunt,” Ingolf Schumacher, the head of the union’s industrial department, said in a statement. “Ryanair is trying to win time and attempting to delay the beginning of collective bargaining.”
Ryanair said it had objected to having a contract pilot, who had not flown with the company for 15 months and was in litigation with the company, at the union talks. The union said this pilot had been fired two days after he publicly said he was a member of the union’s negotiating team and was taking this to court.
The union said the company also objected to the participation by another pilot because he also was not a direct Ryanair employee. Many of Ryanair’s pilots are employed on contracts through separate agencies and, as tensions have flared over relations between the company and its pilots, many have voiced their frustration at the demanding work conditions and these atypical work arrangements. .
In a letter to its members, the union said Ryanair representatives had refused to enter the negotiating room until the pilot left. The union also said that the airline had refused to sign a “good-faith bargaining agreement.”
“Ryanair is still trying to enforce their old habit of dictating the conditions under which negotiations can take place,” the letter said. “Under these conditions, there can be no fruitful negotiations to reach any form of acceptable common labor agreement.”
The union did concede that the company had expressed a desire to “build trust and better cooperation between the pilots and management,” but said that the “underlying control issues are the same.”
On Friday, there were limited signs of disruption to Ryanair’s air passengers. The company said that nine of its morning flights leaving from Germany had been delayed, and none had been canceled.
The union deemed the strike a success, nonetheless, saying that it had put the company’s management under pressure.
“They had to work all night to mitigate the consequences of the strike and there were nearly no consequences for the passengers,” said Markus Wahl, a spokesman for the union. “It was a win-win situation, we hit the company without hitting the passengers.”
The union says it will not negotiate with Ryanair unless it backs down on allowing the two pilots to be part of its negotiation team. If Ryanair does not change its stance, “further strike action will be possible,” Mr. Wahl said.
In a bid to head off a work stoppage, Ryanair had written to its German pilots asking them not to strike and to “avoid disrupting the plans of thousands of German passengers during Christmas week.” It also said it had agreed to meet with union representatives on Jan. 5to discuss a collective labor agreement.
The budget carrier has been trying to stanch a growing backlash among its ranks, after scheduling problems led the company threatening to cancel pilots’ holidays.
The pilots pushed back, and Ryanair cut thousands of flights instead, but the incidents galvanized the pilots, who started organizing for better conditions and more secure contracts.
Negotiations have not been as disastrous in Ireland, where Impact, which represents Irish pilots, said on Thursday that the company had confirmed its recognition of the union in writing and that both sides had agreed to meet on Jan. 3 to establish collective bargaining procedures.