Hopes rise that Aer Lingus pilots' strike will be averted
UP to 30,000 Aer Lingus passengers a day may be spared travel chaos next week, as hopes rise that planned industrial action by pilots may yet be averted.
The Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) and the airline have agreed to talks at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) in an attempt to resolve the dispute over rosters that threatens the entire flight schedule from Tuesday.
If the industrial action goes ahead, the airline has warned that it may have to ground all flights just as the peak summer season begins. The move would affect between 28,000 and 30,000 passengers a day.
Pilots claim that they are being asked to work between five and six days in a row -- followed by just one day off -- due to a shortage of staff.
The airline admitted that some pilots were working these rosters -- rather than the normal roster of five days on and two days off -- because it was understaffed, but said that this was not the norm.
It said it had employed agency pilots because of a higher level of departures by pilots at its UK bases.
It is understood that those pilots left Aer Lingus for other jobs due to an increase in work opportunities in the industry.
In a statement, the airline assured passengers that it was "using its best endeavours to reach a resolution".
"Aer Lingus sincerely regrets the uncertainty this threat of industrial action by IALPA/IMPACT causes its customers," it said.
IALPA, which is a branch of the public sector union IMPACT, served notice on the airline after pilots voted by 87pc in favour of industrial action.
Pilots at Cork and Dublin airports warned that they would report for duty an hour later than their rostered report times from Tuesday and would also refuse to work on rostered 'free' days or annual-leave days.
Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller said this "withdrawal of flexibility" would destroy the airline's ability to run a proper schedule.
"We will miss our airport slot times, parking stands and gate positions and will be unable to fulfil flight connections for customers," he said.
"In addition, pilot and cabin-crew operational duties will be out of sync, which may result in cabin crew having insufficient hours to operate all flights.
"This may lead to a full cancellation of operations from Tuesday unless IALPA/ IMPACT stand down their action."
Mr Mueller said new rosters were being negotiated with the union but that this was "exacerbated" by a shortage of pilots in the UK.
IALPA will attend a meeting at the LRC tomorrow morning.
Aer Lingus management will attend talks at the state mediation unit this morning.
The Fianna Fail spokesman on Transport, Timmy Dooley, has called on Transport Minister Leo Varadkar to help avert industrial action.
He said it was not the first time that a row over rosters at the airline had caused uncertainty for passengers, following a cabin crew dispute that led to cancellations earlier this year.
"The tourism industry has suffered significant difficulties and a dispute that leads to cancellations or deferred bookings on the part of passengers is not good for the airline, the economy or the tourist industry," Mr Dooley commented.
He added that the threat of industrial action was enough to deter people from booking trips to Ireland.