Aer Lingus dispute deepens with accusations of ‘blackmail’ and ‘greed’

Tens of thousands of passengers set to be affected by hundreds of flight cancellations

Both sides claim they are ready to begin talks. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

The rift between Aer Lingus management and Ialpa has widened with the airline accusing the pilots’ union of “blackmail” and the union responding with claims of “greed”.

Both parties have also claimed they stand ready for talks while suggesting that the other side is the sole stumbling block to meaningful negotiations starting.

The airline has cancelled close to 250 flights over a five day period from next Wednesday, including over 100 on Saturday. Aer Lingus said it was left with no choice after pilots announced an eight hour all-out strike from 5am on Saturday, June 29th.

The dispute centres around a pay claim with Ialpa seeking a 24 per cent increase which is says it will cover inflation over a five-year period and management making an initial offer of just under 10 per cent.

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Speaking on the Anton Savage Show on Newstalk on Sunday morning, Donal Moriarty of Aer Lingus accused the pilots of “seeking to blackmail the company by inflicting enormous pain on the company but more importantly on the company’s customers”.

He denied claims made by Ialpa that management was unwilling to enter into talks aimed at resolving the dispute.

“The last talks that we had with Ialpa were on June 17th and Ialpa ended those talks based upon their refusal discuss ways in which pay could be increased beyond the 12.5 per cent that had been agreed with every other collectively bargained group in Aer Lingus,” he said.

He stressed that the airline had wanted “discussions around productivity and flexibility which is absolutely normal in the context of industrial relations discussion, Ialpa refused to do that”.

Industrial action at Aer Lingus: How will it impact passengers?

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He said management had written to Ialpa on three occasions, including correspondence on Sunday “looking for meetings and we’ve had no response”.

He said Ialpa appeared “only willing to have discussions with us provided that we accepted their 24 per cent pay increase demand and that’s obviously something we can’t do and will not do. It seems clear that Ialpa are either unwilling or unable to enter into meaningful direct discussions.”

Mr Moriarty insisted that Aer Lingus management was not trying to ramp up the conflict by issuing warnings to pilots at the weekend that they could be held personally liable for any losses to the airline if they fail to work their rosters before they begin industrial action on Wednesday.

A letter from Adrian Dunne, the carrier’s chief operations officer, to pilots says the company expects them to work their live rosters, including any requested changes, up to 12.01am on Wednesday when their industrial action begins.

The letter said the company would regard any pilot who does not do so as taking part in unofficial industrial action and warns that “individuals who participate in this kind of behaviour may be held personally liable for any losses arising”.

Mr Moriarty said the correspondence was “focused on protecting the interests of our customers and the reality is that there has been enormous increase in short notice pilot illness over recent months spiking over the past eight weeks. We had to cancel 14 flights last weekend because of it.”

He said the dispute was “a significant deterrent to forward bookings and that is something we’re seeing.”

What are my rights if industrial action at Aer Lingus affects my holiday plans?Opens in new window ]

Capt Mark Tighe of Ialpa speaking on the same programme said it was “simply just not true” that it would only enter talks if its pay claim was accepted but he said the union want management “to acknowledge our 24 per cent cumulative inflationary claim but we laid no preconditions.”

He criticised management for creating a “pilot sickness review committee which is in breach of our agreements.

They are threatening individual pilots. They sent a letter to me personally from the general counsel of the company and to a number of other Aer Lingus pilots accusing me and others of an orchestrated and unlawful campaign and reserving the right to instigate High Court action directly.”

He said Iapla was “not trying to cause harm [but was] exercising the rights that we have under law like everybody else has and when the company refused point blank to deal with our reasonable cumulative pay claim.”

He said that between 2019 and 2023 “top executive pay in Aer Lingus increased by 66 per cent and we’re looking for over the period of time approximately 4 per cent per year. This is just greed by management.”

Speaking subsequently on RTÉ radio Captain Tighe refused to rule out an all-out strike although he said it was not being discussed at present.

In a statement issued on Sunday afternoon Aer Lingus said it has had to cancel 120 flights on for next Saturday with 15,000 customers on Aer Lingus short-haul services impacted. It has also re-timed long-haul services on both 28th June and 29th June in order to avoid cancellation of these services.

“Aer Lingus has automatically rebooked as many customers as possible on to alternative flights and is e-mailing all other customers informing them of the cancellations and advising them of their options: to change their flight for free, to request a refund or to request a voucher. The detail of the cancelled flights on 29th June is available on the ‘Travel Advisory’ on the Aer Lingus website at aerlingus.com.

Aer Lingus Regional flights, operated by Emerald Airlines, are unaffected by IALPA’s industrial action and will operate as scheduled. Aer Lingus Regional flight numbers are in the range EI3000 – EI3999.”

The statement repeated that it was “available for meaningful direct discussions with Ialpa in order to seek a resolution to this pay dispute.”

ITAA board member and MD of the Click & Go travel agency Paul Hackett said it was clear the union had timed the eight hour total stoppage to coincide with the start of the school break and he described the move as “cynical and reckless”.

He said Ialpa had behaved n a “very retaliatory and almost impetuous” way and described it as “an absolute two fingers to the travelling public and to parents and to families everywhere who have booked trips to get away.”

He said staff at his agency and others around the country had been working constantly to rearrange and rebook holidays for its customer but said that it the “first weekend of the summer holidays the capacity is just not going to be there”.

He pointed out that many of those impacted would be members of the Forsa trade union which, he said was “currently sitting on its hands and allowing this to happen.”

Meanwhile Ryanair said it has “chosen not to increase fares during the AerLingus strikes”.

A spokeswoman said that all its flights over next 7 days “are fully sold or almost fully sold. We have very little availability. We have decided to let our flights sell out at existing fares rather than increase prices. The last few seats on every flight are always sold at our highest prices which are still much cheaper than competitors,” she said.

She pointed to next Saturday and said all its flights to London, Rome, Faro, and Alicante are sold out. “This would not be the case if we were raising fares,” she said.

“We are looking to offer some limited extra flights next weekend but we have very little spare capacity. We are also assisting AerLingus to take some of thier disrupted customers where we can, but we have very little spare seats this time of year.”

She concluded by saying “false claims of price increases are just media fodder like ‘flight chaos’ when all airlines including AerLingus are used to managing strikes and well used to reaccommodating disrupted passengers. We fully support AerLingus and IAG in resisting these blackmail claims from greedy pilots who are earning up to 280k p.a. and seeking 24% wage rises when the labour court has already suggested 9.5% as a fair outcome. Pilots should accept this fair and reasonable increase and stop threatening the flights/holidays of Irish families.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor