Aer Lingus’s legal threats sparked looming strike, pilots claim

Relations between Aer Lingus and its pilots sour further as passengers learn which flights will be cancelled next week

Aer Lingus aircraft will be grounded for eight hours on Saturday, June 29th, as relations between the airline and its pilots worsen amid claims of threatened High Court action over an alleged orchestrated illness campaign. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins

Aer Lingus pilots say threats of High Court action against union representatives over an alleged orchestrated illness campaign partly triggered their decision to strike next Saturday.

The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) told Aer Lingus on Friday that members would halt work between 5am and 1pm next Saturday, June 29th.

The move came as the carrier announced plans to cancel 124 flights over five days next week to contain the union’s already-announced work to rule from Wednesday.

Routes hit include Dublin-New York JFK and Cork-Heathrow, along with flights from the capital to European cities including London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Rome, Frankfurt, Geneva, Manchester, Munich, Vienna, Lyons, Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Birmingham.


Aer Lingus had to cancel 56 flights this year due to pilots being ill or unavailableOpens in new window ]

Capt Mark Tighe, Ialpa’s president, said Saturday’s strike was a response to Aer Lingus threats to union members and officials. He said the airline’s lawyers had threatened each member of the Ialpa executive committee this week with High Court action “for alleged unlawful conduct regarding an alleged increase in pilot absences due to illness”.

Capt Tighe stressed that “Ialpa refutes this in the strongest terms.”

Aer Lingus this week said that increased illness among pilots forced it to cancel 56 flights since January. Ialpa blames a shortage of pilots for this. Donal Moriarty, the airline’s chief corporate affairs officer, said on Friday that the company had written to Ialpa officers seeking an explanation for the increased illness rates.

“We simply reserved our position as to any action we would take pending their explanation,” he added.

Capt Tighe said an Aer Lingus pilots’ sickness committee has been contacting union members individually, something Ialpa regards as threatening. “We would like to remind everybody that pilots cannot by law operate aircraft if they are sick,” he pointed out.

Aer Lingus pilots announce strike accusing airline of escalating disputeOpens in new window ]

He also said Aer Lingus chief operations officer Aidan Dunne wrote to him saying Ialpa’s work practices were not compatible with the business.

“He said if we did not agree to new practices, they will terminate all our agreements,” Capt Tighe added.

Mr Moriarty argued that some collective agreements included practices not compatible with a modern airline, and that Aer Lingus had written to the union seeking to discuss this.

Pilots are seeking a 23.88 per cent pay rise, which their union argues is reasonable compensation for inflation over the last five years. The company has branded this “exorbitant”. Capt Tighe said on Friday that Saturday’s action was in pursuit of its “reasonable pay claim”.

Aer Lingus Q&A: 20,000 passengers to be impacted as airline lists routes facing cancellationsOpens in new window ]

Ialpa says it is willing to meet Aer Lingus without preconditions, but maintains that the airline has made no effort to restart talks since Tuesday, when the trade union notified it of its work to rule.

However, Aer Lingus says it has written to the union seeking to meet next week and is waiting for a response.

The airline condemned Saturday’s proposed strike as designed to harm passengers.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

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