Women pilots told ‘terminate your pregnancy or employment’

Many contract pilots afraid to speak up, says head of Irish Air Line Pilots' Association

Some women pilots in Irish-registered airlines are being told they have a choice: terminate their pregnancy or terminate their employment, the president of the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association (IALPA) has claimed.

Capt Evan Cullen told an Oireachtas Committee investigation into bogus self-employment that about half the pilots working in Irish-registered airlines were hired as self-employed contractors.

He said all Irish-registered airlines were involved to some extent in employing workers as self-employed contractors with many global airlines, who were “not household names”, setting up companies and registering here to take advantage of Irish labour law.

For the pilots there were implications for wages, sick pay, maternity cover and pensions, as well as collective bargaining and other rights.


Capt Cullen told the Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection that many pilots were afraid to speak up.

He said women pilots were being told not to get pregnant, and that women pilots who present as pregnant were told: “you have a choice, you terminate your employment or you terminate your pregnancy”.

Capt Cullen said there were important implications for safety involved as pilots were rated against each other for performance.

He cited two academic studies from the University of Ghent and the London School of Economics which showed pilots’ decision making was affected by the security of their own position.

He said the studies had shown, in cases where pilots had safety concerns, they were more likely to fly if they were contractors.

Loss of money to State

Capt Cullen said at a “conservative” estimate the State was at a loss of about €16 million a year in employer PRSI contributions.

He also criticised the Department of Transport which he said had referred to the value of “innovative employment measures” in the industry.

Bríd Smith TD asked Capt Cullen if Ryanair was one of the airlines which employed contract pilots, and was asked by the chairman of the Committee John Curran to desist form naming any individual or company.

Capt Cullen responded that “all Irish airlines” were involved in hiring contract pilots with practices ranging from 5 per cent contractors, to 100 per cent of the pilots being “in this kind of precarious employment”.

He said IALPA had taken part in one Revenue test case on behalf of a pilot, but the case is currently three years running.

Joan Collins TD said she deplored “what is happening to women” because of global companies “using Ireland as a tax haven”.

She said employment was returning to “the days of 1916” where “people are going down to the docks and looking for work and really afraid they are not going to get that work”.

Ms Collins instanced workers in the Ivy restaurant, Dublin, who had a dispute with their employers and who she said were now terrified to speak about their conditions.

Thomas Fitzpatrick of the Unite Trade Union said the issue of workers being hired as self-contractors was also rife in the construction industry and the English-language-teaching industry.

Mr Curran said a report would be published before the Oireachtas summer recess.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist