Pilots at Aer Lingus begin fresh vote on industrial action

Move comes after company’s solicitors raise issues over original vote which returned near unanimous backing for possible strike

Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association says it will run another ballot, this time on paper

Pilots at Aer Lingus are to vote again on whether they want to take strike action in support of a 24 per cent pay claim after the company raised a legal issue about the original process.

On Wednesday the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) announced that a first ballot, conducted electronically, had returned a 98 per cent vote in favour of industrial action, up to and including strike action, with 98 per cent of those who were eligible to vote participating.

On Friday morning, however, the airline said it had “queried the validity of Ialpa conducting a ballot for industrial action via electronic means, having regard to the statutory requirements for secrecy and the provisions of the Ialpa constitution. Aer Lingus notes that Ialpa is now reconducting a ballot for industrial action via a paper process.”

The company and union continued to hold talks in the wake of the ballot result but these broke down on Thursday evening with the company reporting a lack of “meaningful” progress and a refusal on Ialpa’s part to return to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for further discussions.

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Confirming on Friday that the airline’s solicitors had written raising concerns over the conduct of the original ballot, Ialpa said it had decided to run another ballot, this time on paper. It is to close on Monday morning at 11am. Voting opened almost immediately at the organisation’s Woodford offices and Fórsa’s base in Cork.

In a message to members sent by Ialpa on Friday, the union’s president, Mark Tighe, said a legal challenge of some sort had been anticipated and while the organisation believes the process was robust, reballoting was a faster way forward than fighting over the issue in the High Court.

“As we walked along this path, we always knew that the company would try anything to prevent you from exercising your rights,” Mr Tighe told pilots in a video message.

Pilots at Aer Lingus vote for industrial action as airline describes pay claim as ‘exorbitant’Opens in new window ]

“We discussed at length that the company would attempt to raise a question around your ballot and your vote.

“We told you that Ialpa and Fórsa, working together with our solicitors and senior counsel, would ensure that every i was dotted and every t was crossed. And they were. However, as anticipated, I have received a solicitor’s letter from the company raising a question about the ballot. We are certain that there is no question to be answered.

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“What is not in question is that almost 98 per cent of you voted and nearly unanimously voted yes. laIpa and Fórsa have had a clear plan and strategy for this. We could spend a number of weeks answering their question in court, which the company is expecting us to do. However, this is not what we’re going to do.”

Mr Tighe told the members that the decision to rerun the ballot would “only cost us four days”. He said the union’s executive was again recommending a vote in favour of industrial action and provided practical details on the running of the ballot.

In terms of the talks that ended on Thursday evening, he said only that “the continuing block on a resolution was the company’s insistence on work practice changes to fund your pay award”.

On Thursday evening, after the talks had concluded without agreement, Aer Lingus said “no meaningful progress was made, with Ialpa continuing to demand an unsustainable level of increase in pilot pay [up to 23.88 per cent] that was not supported by any increases in productivity or flexibility.

“Aer Lingus offered to continue to engage in direct discussions on meaningful productivity and flexibility proposals to enable increased pay. Aer Lingus also offered to request the support of the Workplace Relations Commission in order to further explore solutions. Both of these offers were rejected by Ialpa.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times