In a major reversal of long-standing policy, Ryanair has agreed to recognise pilot trade unions.
The airline announced the decision this morning as it attempts to head off the threat of strike action in Ireland, Italy and Portugal.
While the Italian strike has been cancelled, it appears the Irish and Portuguese action could yet go ahead.
In a statement, the Impact trade union - whose pilot branch is the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association (IALPA) - said that an "immediate meeting between management and the union is now necessary to clarify issues and make progress."
It said it was available today or over the weekend to meet Ryanair management.
However, Ryanair has since indicated they will meet unions on Wednesday - the same day as the planned strike.
The airline said in a statement: "The Impact union promised to call off the strike if Ryanair conceded recognition. They’ve gotten our offer of recognition in writing and we’re happy to meet them next week, which itself is the first act in recognising IALPA.
"The UK and Italian unions have already agreed to meetings with Ryanair and have called off the threatened strike in Italy."
It adds: "The sensible course of action is for IALPA to meet with Ryanair next Wednesday, but call off the unnecessary threats of disruption to the Christmas flights of thousands of customers."
Pilots based in Cork, Dublin and Shannon are planning to walk off the job next Wednesday in the row over collective bargaining rights.
Pilots across Europe are demanding a new collective bargaining system to replace the employee representative councils that currently negotiate on behalf of staff.
The airline had a long-standing policy that it would never negotiate with trade unions.
The policy dictated that, while staff do have a legal right to join a trade union – the airline also had a right not to negotiate with them.
The airline's CEO Michael O'Leary previously insisted that "hell will freeze over" before the policy changed.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the company's chief people's officer Eddie Wilson said the catalyst for change was the threat of widespread disruption to customer's christmas plans.
"We are always decisive and the time to do it is now," he said.
"We were facing widespread disruption to our customers and we have decided on the back of that, that if this is about recognition, well then let's do the recognition.
"We have paid premiums over the years to keep the unions out; our pilots are extremely well paid, they have great conditions and - if it is about recognition - if it is the time do it now, then we will do it now."
In a statement this morning, the airline said it had written to pilot unions in Ireland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal inviting each of them to talks to “recognise these unions as the representative body for pilots in Ryanair in each of these countries.”
The company said the offer was dependent on the unions agreeing to establish “committees of Ryanair pilots to deal with Ryanair issues” – and warned that it will not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines in Ireland or elsewhere.
The company said it had decided to change its policy “in order to avoid any threat of disruption to its customers and its flights from pilot unions during Christmas week.”
It called on unions to call off next Wednesday’s threatened industrial action “so that our customers can look forward to travelling home for Christmas without the threat or worry of pilot strikes hanging over them.”
The company’s CEO Michael O’Leary said the decision aimed to “remove any worry or concern” that Christmas flights may be disrupted by pilot industrial action next week.
“If the best way to achieve this is to talk to our pilots through a recognised union process, then we are prepared to do so, and we have written today to these unions inviting them to talks to recognise them and calling on them to cancel the threatened industrial action planned for Christmas week,” he said.
“Recognising unions will be a significant change for Ryanair, but we have delivered radical change before.
“Putting the needs of our customers first, and avoiding disruption to their Christmas flights, is the reason why we will now deal with our pilots through recognised national union structures and we hope and expect that these structures can and will be agreed with our pilots early in the New Year.”