Aer Lingus and pilots union talks break up without agreement, amid threat of summer strike action

Carrier asks pilots for 15 days’ summer strike notice

Aer Lingus pilots are pursuing a pay claim worth a total of 24 per cent over 3½ years

The latest round of talks between Aer Lingus and the carrier’s pilots union broke up on Thursday without any “meaningful progress” being made, ahead of possible strike action this summer.

The Irish Airline Pilots Association (Ialpa) rejected proposals from Aer Lingus to “continue to engage in direct discussions on meaningful productivity and flexibility proposals to enable increased pay” as well as to request the support of the Workplace Relations Commission in order to further explore solutions,” the carrier said.

While talks may yet resume, the lack of progress so far leaves open the possibility of strikes this summer.

Earlier, pilots had been asked by the company to provide at least 15 days’ notice of any summer strike action in order to allow it manage the impact on families and other customers though the busy holiday period.

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Members of Ialpa voted by a large margin in favour of industrial action up to and including strike action in pursuit of a pay claim worth a total of 24 per cent over 3½ years.

The carrier has warned of the potential for significant disruption and a “devastating impact” on customers and families over the summer holiday season.

In the event of IALPA’s executive deciding to proceed with work stoppages, it would be required to give the airline at least seven days’ notice.

The potential scale of the disruption any action might cause would generally be seen as a key element of the union’s bargaining position.

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The company has accepted a Labour Court recommendation of an interim package of increases worth 9.25 per cent that also provided for further engagement at the Workplace Relations Commission between the two sides on a wider deal.

The union has rejected the recommendation and has declined requests in recent days to return to the WRC in order to continue negotiations with the support of a third party.

The company is understood to be willing to countenance larger pay increases than those put on the table to date but insists changes to work practices and productivity be part of any such agreement.

In the meantime, its chief operations officer, Adrian Dunne, wrote to IALPA president Mark Tighe this week acknowledging the possibility of industrial action over the coming weeks and requesting the union provide it with 15, rather than the minimum seven days’, notice, something the airline argues is the industry norm internationally.

“Aer Lingus wrote to IALPA on June 10th informing them that industrial action at this time of year would cause very significant disruption and have a devastating impact on customers and their families going into the summer holiday season,” the company said on Thursday.

“In that context, and if IALPA is intent on pursuing strike action, Aer Lingus asked IALPA that advance notice of at least 15 days be provided.

“Such a level of notice, which has been a norm where industrial action has been taken internationally in other airlines, would provide Aer Lingus with more opportunity to try to make alternative arrangements for a greater number of customers. Aer Lingus is awaiting IALPA’s response to this request.”

Asked if the union was likely to agree to the request, IALPA said it would not comment while the process of negotiations with the company continues.

On Wednesday, Aer Lingus chief corporate affairs officer Donal Moriarty described the IALPA claim as “exorbitant”. Responding on social media that evening, the general secretary of trade union Fórsa, of which IALPA is a part, said that “while the travelling public might think that the post-Covid hikes in air fares have been exorbitant, and citizens generally might view the company’s profits as exorbitant, it’s a bit much to describe workers’ efforts to defend living standards as exorbitant”.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times