Aer Lingus vote threatens travel misery for 150,000
AER Lingus passengers face the threat of chaos over the August bank holiday weekend after pilots at the airline voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, the Irish Independent has learned.
Management at Aer Lingus and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (IALPA) union are locked in talks over pay and resolving a pension deficit.
Pilots' demands include the reintroduction of an annual pay increment and an 11pc pay hike – worth almost €20,000 for the highest-paid captains.
The Irish Independent has learned that pilots voted by an overwhelming 400 in favour of industrial action to just one against in a postal ballot in May.
Management at Aer Lingus has not yet been told the result of the ballot for action.
But it means that if talks break down then industrial action – including an all-out strike – can be called at just two weeks' notice.
No decision on the timing of any strike action has been taken. If a strike is called pilots are likely to target the August bank holiday weekend, according to sources.
As many as 150,000 passengers would be expected to fly with Aer Lingus over the three-day period, one of the busiest of the year.
Tensions between management and pilots have spiked since an annual increment was not paid in April but both sides are still engaged in talks, which are being chaired by independent barrister Gerry Durkan.
However, tensions are understood to have increased in recent days, including at what has been described as an angry meeting of pilots in Dublin on Tuesday.
The last threatened strike at Aer Lingus was called off at the last minute in summer 2011.
Pilots at Aer Lingus earn between €54,000 and €181,000 a year depending on seniority and experience.
The average salary is thought to be in excess of €100,000 a year.
An 11pc pay rise would be worth from €5,940 a year to €19,910 for each pilot, depending on seniority.
Under a previously agreed pay deal to restructure Aer Lingus dubbed the "greenfield programme" pilots took a 12pc pay cut three years ago and agreed to a three-year pay freeze that ended in January.
Aer Lingus pilots are not covered by a recent Labour Court recommendation that will see pay for other staff at the airline frozen for three more years as a condition of the company injecting €140m into a pension scheme that faces a €750m shortfall.
The proposal has been approved by management and the trade union affected but the deal could yet be derailed after pension trustees responsible for ensuring the scheme is well run indicated that they could block the plan.