The first strike by Ryanair pilots in Germany was due to be staged this morning in a dispute over union recognition.

The walkout by members of the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) union was taking place for four hours from 5am local time.

The budget airline said the strike “serves no purpose other than to disrupt thousands of German passengers in Christmas week”.

The German pilots union said initial talks with the airline had been cancelled following “unsatisfactory negotiations” over union recognition.

Ryanair last week wrote to pilot unions in Ireland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal inviting them for talks over union recognition.

It had been facing strike action by pilots around Europe in the run-up to Christmas.

The airline said today’s disruption was “unjustified and unnecessary when Ryanair wrote to the VC agreeing to meet them again in Frankfurt as requested on Friday 5 Jan 2018 to progress the negotiations on a collective labour agreement for Germany”.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the union “confirmed that the Ryanair Pilots Council had not been elected by Ryanair’s pilots, and contained one former contract pilot who had not flown for Ryanair for 15 months, who is currently in litigation with Ryanair in Germany,” the airline said.

“Ryanair explained that it was happy to negotiate with its German pilots and the VC officials but it would not enter into negotiations with non-Ryanair pilots, or a non-Ryanair pilot who is in litigation with Ryanair.”

Ryanair made a last ditch plea yesterday afternoon to its German pilots this afternoon asking them to work as normal today to avoid disrupting the travel plans of thousands of German passengers during Christmas week.

“Ryanair will continue to engage with the VC union and its German pilots to try to agree a collective labour agreement in early January,” the carrier added.

A spokesman added: “We hope that our German pilots will put the needs of our customers first during Christmas week.

“We advise all customers in Germany to turn up as normal as we plan to operate all scheduled flights, and we will be doing our utmost to minimise any disruptions to the Christmas travel plans of our German customers.”

VC said talks scheduled for Wednesday were cancelled “at short notice” by Ryanair because the airline “rejected two of the five VC company council members present at the negotiating table”.

The head of VC’s industrial department, Ingolf Schumacher, added: “Ryanair’s public offer to conduct negotiations with VC can only be classified as a further publicity stunt.”

Ryanair was “trying to win time and attempting to delay the beginning of collective bargaining,” he said.

The carrier earlier said it would recognise unions as the representative body for pilots in Ryanair “as long as they establish committees of Ryanair pilots to deal with Ryanair issues, as Ryanair will not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines in Ireland or elsewhere”.

However, it also said the offer to hold talks about collective bargaining was not just about the short term.

It said it was “the best grounds to move forward with our workforce for the next 10-20 years where we intend to grow to be the biggest airline in the world”.