Ireland-based LCC Ryanair has reported generally good progress in its negotiations with organized labor, following its December 2017 recognition of trades unions, although the risk of industrial action from some national groups cannot yet be ruled out, the airline’s COO said in London March 7.

For years, Ryanair conducted pay and conditions negotiations with representatives at its bases throughout Europe (87 currently) and had set its face against dealing with union.

“Nobody was probably more surprised than myself on Dec. 15 when we took the decision to recognize unions,” Peter Bellew said. However, rapid progress had been made in countries such as the UK, Spain and Italy. Movement toward agreement was noticeably slower in Portugal and Ireland and Ryanair had been told informally that some national unions could take months to agree or ratify compacts.

In the case of Portugal, he suspected this was partly because there had been a change of personnel on the union side. In Ireland, the situation “is more confusing, because there’s a pilots’ association and there’s a mother union on top of that; I think it’s always more difficult for them to manage each other.”

However, he accepted there was also “30 years of pent-up stress in the relationship with Ryanair to overcome.”

Ironically, he added, there had been some unhappiness from aircrew who had joined Ryanair specifically because they were a non-unionized company, perhaps because they had had difficult relationship with a union in the past. “We’re having to reassure some pilots that we haven’t sold them out. It’s a complicated emotional system for some of them to deal with.”

Bellew said the greatest risk of industrial action from pilots came from Ireland, but that Ryanair would do everything possible to avoid industrial action.

Although the change of direction in recognizing unions had been a major departure for Ryanair, he felt that the previous system, negotiating with individual bases, was not sustainable in the longer term, given the size to which the airline had grown.

Alan Dron,