* Management bids to stave off strike threat
* Union says sees deal within two weeks
* Deal would mean agreement in 2 of 3 biggest markets (Updates with comments from union; background on strike fears)
ROME, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Ryanair and its Italian pilots union ANPAC said on Wednesday they were close to a deal on formal recognition and working conditions in what would be a major breakthrough in the airline’s efforts to avoid strike action across Europe.
A deal in Italy would mean pilots in two of the airline’s three largest markets - Britain, Italy and Spain - would have reached provisional agreement with management.
In Ryanair’s biggest market, Britain’s BALPA union signed a recognition deal in January and Ryanair’s Chief Operations Officer Peter Bellew on Tuesday said talks with the SELPA pilot union in its third biggest market in Spain were “very positive.”
“Things are really going fast. At the next meeting we may be able to sign an agreement,” ANPAC official Riccardo Canestrari told Reuters following a meeting with Ryanair management.
At a press conference in Rome, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said he hoped to sign an agreement at their next meeting with the airline’s management in two weeks’ time.
The airline averted widespread strikes ahead of Christmas by announcing plans to recognise pilots’ unions for the first time in its 32-year history and is talking with unions across Europe on formal recognition.
But progress had been slow and O’Leary has warned that the company may face strike action at Easter or the summer.
A union representing Ryanair cabin crew in Portugal this week announced it would hold three one-day strikes during the Easter holidays.
Management hopes that by reaching quick agreement with unions in its largest markets that it can avoid widespread disruption.
ANPAC’s Canestrari said that the union was negotiating a common pay scale for Ryanair pilots across Italy, its second biggest market, as well as other working conditions such as tax, paternal leave and rostering.
He said his understanding was that on completion of the agreement, the union would become the only official representative body for Ryanair pilots in Italy, replacing the airline’s Employee Representative Committees - a key demand by pilots in other jurisdictions.
The unofficial pan-European EERC body set up by pilots could have a role in pan-European questions like the transfer of pilots between jurisdictions, but primary negotiations on working conditions would take place with national unions, Canestrari said.
O’Leary said Ryanair was also negotiating with Italy’s ANPAV flight assistants’ union and hopes to reach a deal with them too shortly. (Reporting by Alberto Sisto in Rome and Conor Humphries in Dublin; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Elaine Hardcastle)