Leo Varadkar 'concerned with the escalation in the Ryanair dispute'

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent, in Rome, Italy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary thousands of stranded passengers "who pay the wages" of directors and pilots could hit back at the airline if his pay talks stand-off continue to escalate.

Responding to revelations Mr O'Leary's company has told 100 pilots and 200 cabin crew their services "may not be required from October 28 onwards", Mr Varadkar said threats of job losses will ultimately damage the airline as much as the staff.

Speaking in Rome, Italy, on the final day of a week-long three-country tour of continental Europe to shore up support for Ireland's Brexit position, Mr Varadkar acknowledged any potential job cuts are a "commercial decision" for the company.

However, in a clear warning to Mr O'Leary and the Ryanair board, he added that continuing to threaten pilots and staff seeking better conditions could leave passengers out of pocket - risking a backlash against the firm.

"That's [the letters to pilots and cabin crew] a commercial decision, it's up to any business to say how many flights they want to run or how many staff to staff those planes, that is a commercial decision.

But I am very concerned with the escalation in the Ryanair dispute, particularly the impact it's going to have on holidaymakers and people who spent months saving up for their holidays and who are now perhaps not being able to take their holiday.

"I would really ask Ryanair and the unions to think about the people and the customers, the ones that ultimately pay the wages of the pilots and the cabin crew, and the ones who ultimately pay the dividends of the shareholders and keep the board in office," he said.

In the first significant Government involvement in the stand-off, Mr Varadkar urged both Ryanair and union representatives to "get around the table" and "come to an agreement to allow things to return to normal".

While not saying the Government will become involved, he said if this does not happen there is a genuine risk thousands of Irish customers could be left stranded abroad or unable to take planned holidays abroad.

The warning came after the Irish Examiner reported that Ryanair has put 300 members of staff - including 100 pilots and 200 cabin crew - on 90 days protective notice due to the fact the airline will reduce its winter plane numbers schedule from 30 to "at most" 24.

Fórsa, which represents the 100 directly employed pilots who have been striking, responded by announcing a fourth day of stoppages for next Friday, August 3.

The union warned further strikes will follow later in the month unless the airline’s management changes tack and negotiates in good faith on the issue of base transfers and related matters.

There has been almost a stoppage per week in the last three weeks and the rate of stoppages could be equal to that, if not exceed it, in August.

Ryanair said in response that the union has rejected its offer of a briefing on the planned cutbacks.

It said that the August 3 strike would only see 20 of its 290 Irish flights cancelled. In the previous three strikes, it has kept the cancellations to Ireland-UK flights to avoid too much disruption to holidaymakers.

The airline added: “We have told Fórsa that there will be no more meetings while they hold strikes.

“If they wish to meet after next Friday’s strike, then we will do here at our offices, but not if more strikes are called.”

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