Aer Lingus row intensifies as travel association accuses pilots of ‘cruel timing’ for strike

Pilots’ union accuses airline of greed while itself being criticised for ‘cruel timing’ and ‘blackmail’ as strike action and pain for passengers loom

Mark Tighe, president of IALPA accompanied by principal officers Dermot Moran, Owen Kelly and Daniel Langan after presenting legal notice of industrial action to Aer Lingus Headquarters at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The dispute at Aer Lingus has worsened with the airline accusing the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) of “blackmail” and the union responding with claims of “greed” and refusing to rule out an all-out strike.

Angry exchanges over the weekend fuelled fears that the holiday plans of hundreds of thousands of people will be disrupted with the Irish Travel Agents’ Association (ITAA) accusing the pilots’ union of “cruel” timing over its eight-hour strike next Saturday.

Dozens of flights to popular tourist destinations including key routes to Malaga and Faro on the Algarve are among those cancelled, with more than 215 flights pulled from schedules between next Wednesday and Sunday, including 120 on Saturday alone.

On Sunday, both management and Ialpa claimed they were ready for talks while blaming the other side for being the stumbling block to meaningful negotiations.

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Donal Moriarty of Aer Lingus accused the pilots of “seeking to blackmail the company by inflicting enormous pain on [Aer Lingus] but more importantly on customers”.

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He denied claims made by Ialpa that management was unwilling to enter into talks aimed at resolving the dispute. He said the airline wanted “discussions around productivity and flexibility which is absolutely normal in the context of industrial relations discussion [but] Ialpa refused to do that”.

Capt Mark Tighe of Ialpa denied it would only enter talks if its pay claim was accepted and said while the union wanted management “to acknowledge our 24 per cent cumulative inflationary claim, [it] laid no preconditions”.

He said pilots were “not trying to cause harm [but are] 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 suggested that was “just greed by management”.

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week, he refused to rule out an all-out strike. “It’s certainly a possibility, then it’s a possibility the company may take drastic action, but it’s not being discussed at this moment,” he said.

Government figures expect pressure to intervene this week as disruption mounts but senior sources said there was little point in such an intervention when the two sides were so far apart and there was little hope of a deal.

“For them to come together there has to be a pathway to an agreement,” one source said. “[There is] no point in forcing it if they’re too far apart.”

There is pessimism in the Government that serious disruption this week can be avoided, given the entrenched nature of the exchanges over the weekend. Ministers believe their scope for a meaningful intervention is very limited.

The chief executive of the ITAA, Clare Dunne, described the impasse as “a real mess” and said choosing next Saturday for an all-out strike was “really cruel. The primary schools finish up on Friday so many kids and families will be waiting to go away on that day.”

Describing it as “a complete nightmare scenario”, she said Aer Lingus bookings for the weeks ahead have taken a massive hit. “Nobody is booking Aer Lingus or at least they are not if they are travelling in July and August,” she said.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times