Wednesday 16 October 2019

Airline staff phone details 'handed over'

Union complains after Aer Lingus workers who went off sick at Christmas were called by nurses

Aer Lingus. Stock picture
Aer Lingus. Stock picture

Fearghal O'Connor

Aer Lingus trade union officials have complained to the airline's management that it breached GDPR rules by giving the phone numbers of staff who were sick over Christmas to nurses.

Some staff who called in sick over the festive season are understood to have been angered to receive phone calls from nurses based at a call centre in England. The nurses were seeking to arrange appointments for the staff with company doctors.

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In the latest industrial relations flashpoint at the airline's Dublin Airport ground operation, Siptu representatives tackled management over the phone calls at meetings, accusing them of breaching strict new EU data rules by handing over telephone numbers to an external company.

In December the airline had faced a storm of criticism after its chief operating officer Mike Rutter issued a memo that accused some of its staff of stealing from passengers, the company and from colleagues. That accusation was contained in a memo in which Rutter laid out plans for the airline to hire an external security company and to install CCTV cameras to monitor staff areas including breakrooms.

The airline was subsequently forced to apologise to staff, withdraw the accusation and pay €25,000 to Pieta House and Focus Ireland after details of the memo were reported by the Sunday Independent.

Siptu did not respond to a request for comment but the airline strongly denied that it had done anything inappropriate by passing on staff telephone numbers to nurses. "No breach of GDPR rules occurred. Aer Lingus is aware of the complaint and has responded accordingly," said a spokeswoman for the airline when contacted by the Sunday Independent.

"Aer Lingus takes its obligations under GDPR very seriously," she added.

Aer Lingus employee relations manager Sharon Morris had earlier responded by letter to the trade union's aviation sector organiser Neil McGowan. "I understand at a recent meeting concerns were raised about nurse calls which were made to colleagues who were absent over the Christmas period," said the letter. "In particular, a concern was raised in relation to the fact that employees' telephone numbers were divulged to our Occupational Health service provider and this potentially constituted a breach of GDPR."

The letter explained that the airline had developed an employee privacy policy in accordance with its obligation under GDPR.

"This policy was published to all of our employees and remains available on our intranet," said the letter. "The policy provides that in certain circumstances Aer Lingus may share employee personal data to authorised third party service providers to enable those service providers discharge services to or for Aer Lingus. In those circumstances the third party will be provided with the personal data only in order to carry out the function for which it was appointed."

Sunday Independent

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