Ryanair Holdings Plc, which doesn’t recognize trade unions, lurched further toward collective bargaining after pilots in its home market of Ireland founded a new body and demanded negotiations with the discount operator.

Management should engage exclusively on national matters with the “Ryanair Company Council,” the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association said in a letter to Michael O’Leary, the carrier’s chief executive officer. Six captains and one first officer on permanent Ryanair contracts have been appointed to its ranks.

The move extends efforts among Ryanair pilots to organize after a scheduling lapse over crew leave led to the cancellation of more than 20,000 flights, putting them in a unique position of leverage. The push by pilots in the Dublin-based carrier’s own backyard follows similar developments backed by unions in Sweden, Germany and Portugal over the past week.

“For more than two months pilots employed by Ryanair have clearly indicated to you that they wish to enter direct negotiations with the company,” IALPA President Evan Cullen said in the letter to O’Leary. “This is the most desirable approach for all parties to resolve the many problems that are facing the passengers, the air crew and Ryanair in general.”

The recent moves could also set the stage for legal industrial action, which requires the establishment of such national bodies, according to a letter to pilots from the European Employee Representative Council, another new organization backed by IALPA and formed to undertake companywide negotiations with Europe’s biggest low-cost carrier.

‘No Validity’

Ryanair, which says pilots can only bargain collectively within each of its 86 bases, has offered more money, hired extra staff and pledged to improve its scheduling processes in a bid to head off the push toward organized labor.

The company said it hadn’t received the IALPA letter and dismissed the communication as having “no validity,” adding that the current system of consultation with individual bases has functioned for 25 years with pilots voting regularly in secret ballots to approve pay and conditions. It also repeated suggestions that the EERC and other groups are effectively fronts for the pilot unions of competitor airlines.

The bar on union affiliation represents a “line in the sand” for Ryanair, said Padraic Regan, an aviation-strategy professor at Trinity College Dublin.

“I can’t see Ryanair engaging,” he said. “It would be a major turnaround for them, a major change to a strategy which they’ve held for 30 years. The confrontation will continue. Each side is waiting to see which blinks first.”

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Photo Credit: A Ryanair aircraft. The carrier is having to deal with pilot demands for union representation. Bloomberg