(Adds BALPA statement disputing Ryanair announcement)
By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Ryanair said on Friday it had reached an agreement with British, Portuguese and Italian pilots on contentious seniority and home base issues as the Irish budget airline seeks to end a damaging series of strikes that have hurt its business.
Ryanair has struggled with labour relations since it bowed to pressure to recognise unions for the first time almost a year ago, contributing to a rare profit warning this month and a warning of worse to come if strikes continue.
The Irish budget airline also said on Friday that it expects to sign a recognition agreement with the union representing Spanish pilots shortly.
“These signed agreements with our pilot unions in Portugal, the UK, Italy and shortly in Spain, demonstrate the considerable progress we’re making in concluding union agreements with our people in our major EU markets,” Ryanair Chief People Officer Eddie Wilson said in a statement.
However, the union representing pilots in Britain - BALPA - said it had not reached an agreement but rather had a joint proposal that members would vote on over the next few weeks.
“We signed a draft agreement to go to consultation. Ryanair knows that and should therefore not have said it was an agreement that covers UK pilots. That was wrong,” BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said.
Ryanair reached its first recognition agreement with pilots in its largest market of Britain earlier this year where it has avoided industrial action.
It said on Friday that the Portuguese deal - covering issues such as leave allocation and promotion - would allow talks with Portugal’s SPAC union on a full collective labour agreement to start by the end of the month. Pilots in Italy approved such a deal in August.
A recognition agreement in Spain will also pave the way for rapid negotiations on a full labour agreement with Spanish pilot union SEPLA and encouraging cabin crew in both Portugal and Spain to quickly conclude agreements, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier added.
Cabin crew in Spain and Portugal took part in a walkout across six European countries last month that disrupted the plans of more than 40,000 passengers in one of Ryanair’s worse strikes to date.
Two Belgian unions representing Ryanair cabin crew warned of several more days of strikes in Europe before the end of the year if Ryanair does not change its position in negotiations.
Additional reporting by Alistair Smout in London; Editing by Keith Weir and Louise Heavens