Aer Lingus and pilots’ union clash over sick leave ahead of industrial action next week

Ialpa says some pilots have contacted the union ‘in regard to threatening correspondence’ from the airline’s HR department relating to illness

The pay row between Aer Lingus and its pilots deepened on Thursday. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Aer Lingus and its pilots’ union have clashed over sick leave, deepening the row between the pair ahead of next week’s industrial action at the airline.

Members of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) in Aer Lingus will withdraw all flexible working from Wednesday morning, leading to what the carrier says will be “inevitable disruption” for holidaymakers, in pursuit of a 24 per cent pay rise.

That played out on Thursday when the airline announced it was to cancel as many as one in five flights from next Wednesday, or 10-20 per cent during the first five days of the action “to protect as many services as possible”.

An Ialpa note to members on Thursday said some pilots had contacted the union “in regard to threatening correspondence” from the airline’s human resources department relating to illness. It is understood the letters told pilots they risked having sick pay withdrawn if they did not go for assessments.


Ialpa’s note said the union “refutes any claim by Aer Lingus that our professional pilots are using sickness as a means of commencing unofficial industrial action”.

Aer Lingus said earlier this week that it had cancelled 56 flights since January owing to increased illness among pilots, which prevented them from working out of hours.

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The airline confirmed on Thursday that it had written to Ialpa highlighting “an extraordinary increase in short-notice pilot illness over recent weeks” which it said was hitting operations.

“We have asked Ialpa for an explanation for this and we are awaiting their response,” it added. The company did not comment on letters written to individuals.

A spokesman for Fórsa, the union of which Ialpa is a part, this week firmly rejected any suggestion that pilots were engaging in unofficial action. He said Ialpa balloted members for industrial action for a second time last week after the company queried the union’s use of digital voting in the initial poll.

Ialpa maintains that Aer Lingus does not have enough pilots to fly its planned schedules, and blames the cancellations on that shortfall.

However, the company rejects that, saying it increased pilot numbers by almost 3 per cent over the last 12 months to 766, but has increased flights by only slightly more than 1 per cent.

Consequently it maintains that it has adequate crews to fly its aircraft “given normal flexibility”.

The sick leave row is deepening the rift between the sides, whose attitudes observers say had already hardened as industrial action loomed.

Ialpa says it is seeking the pay rise to compensate members for cost-of-living increases. The company has branded the increase sought as “exorbitant and untenable”.

Capt Mark Tighe, the pilot union’s president, argues that Aer Lingus boosted profits 400 per cent last year to €225 million, but the airline maintains it has the lowest margins within its parent organisation, International Airlines Group.

Both sides maintain they are willing to re-enter talks, but sources believe there is not enough time left to avert next week’s industrial action and planned cancellations.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas