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Work to rule will be more disruptive for Aer Lingus than one day strikes

Airline still assessing likely impact of pilots’ action but flight cancellations appear to be inevitable

Flight cancellations are likely as pilots operate a strict work to rule from Wednesday of next week. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Aer Lingus pilots have stopped short of striking in their pay dispute with the company but passengers still face disrupted and potentially cancelled flights, if union members begin industrial action next week as planned.

The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) told the carrier on Tuesday that members would begin an indefinite, strict work to rule, from one minute past midnight on Wednesday, June 26th, as they pursue a 23.88 per cent pay rise.

They will only work published rosters, with no overtime or out-of-hours duties, hitting the airline’s ability to manage delays and other problems it will encounter at its busiest time of year.

An Ialpa notice to members says this includes not taking managers’ calls outside working hours, not fulfilling any out-of-hours duties they request, not accepting any changes to published rosters, including those sought on or before the day of a flight, or on Fridays, a busy travel day.


Ialpa agreements with Aer Lingus generally provide for this flexibility. Without it, some flights will be disrupted, possibly cancelled, when inevitable problems arise through the summer. Donal Moriarty, the airline’s chief corporate affairs officer, says it is still assessing the likely impact of pilots’ work to rule, “but it will be very significant”, he agrees.

To illustrate the likely consequences, over one week last September, 80 per cent of pilots the airline asked to work outside of rostered hours either excused themselves or did not respond, prompting Aer Lingus to cancel 13 flights and reroute another at a total cost of €2 million.

At the time, the company suggested to Fórsa, the union to which Ialpa is affiliated, that members were engaging in unofficial industrial action. Katie Morgan, Fórsa’s national secretary, refuted this, saying neither organisation had sanctioned such steps.

While he is not drawing any connection between the incidents, Moriarty notes that a recent increase in the number of pilots unable to cover out-of-hours duties has also forced the airline to cancel flights.

Union figures say that Aer Lingus is already short of pilots. It should have around 150 to fly its Airbus A330 fleet but has closer to 130, they say. Moriarty rejects this. “Given normal flexibility, we are more than adequately crewed,” he says. He points out that the airline hired 180 pilots over the last 18 months from thousands of applicants.

Sources on both sides agree that an indefinite work to rule could do more damage than one-day strikes, the other likely option. One-day strikes are finite, but problems can crop up anywhere on its European and North American networks at any time. An ongoing lack of flexibility to manage them risks serious damage to the airline’s reputation and bottom line.

And any resolution looks some way off. Both sides remain willing to talk but Aer Lingus wants this done at the Workplace Relations Commission, while the union says third-party proposals have all fallen short of what members want.

They most recently rejected a Labour Court offer of 9.25 per cent. At the same time, the airline says the increase they seek is simply “not going to happen”.