A photograph that went viral online purporting to show Ryanair crew sleeping on an airport floor was faked, the Irish budget carrier has claimed.

The photograph showed crew lying on the floor of a staff lounge and was used to suggest workers are being mistreated by the airline. It went viral sparking widespread condemnation of Ryanair.

However, the airline has said the photograph was faked by staff members at Malaga Airport on Saturday night.

CCTV footage released by the airline shows staff in a poorly lit room getting up from chairs and lying down on the hard floor to pose for a photograph.

A representative for the crew told the Irish Times: “By posting the video, Ryanair demonstrated that the crews were stuck in a room with only a few chairs. This completely validates our original point.

“The crew did it as a protest to demonstrate what kind of conditions they had to endure.”

Reports said the incident is the latest twist in Ryanair’s battle with trade unions that are forcing the carrier to recognise their members.