Belfast Telegraph

Aer Lingus pilots suspend planned industrial action

By Edel Kennedy

Aer Lingus pilots at Belfast International Airport have called off planned industrial action after agreeing to be balloted on a new deal in the next 48 hours.

New proposals worked out by unions and the airline's management will be put to members in a move to avoid industrial action on Friday.

The last-minute breakthough in talks means travel chaos has been averted at least temporarily for thousands of Aer Lingus passengers. The dispute arose over rotas and differences in rates of pay between pilots working in Belfast and those in Dublin, Cork and Gatwick.

Industrial action was due to begin in Dublin today with a work-to-rule in Belfast scheduled for June 10.

However, the pilots warned last night that the action has only been suspended for a number of weeks, with further talks due to take place with management over the coming weeks.

Details of the agreement for the Belfast and Gatwick pilots will not be released until those pilots have been balloted.

The result will be known later this week. If the pilots reject the offer, flights could be cancelled in Gatwick and Belfast next week.

A deadline of July 1 has been set for resolving any outstanding rostering issues and to allow for the implementation of roster changes already agreed.

Flights expected to be cancelled today in Dublin and Cork will now go ahead as scheduled, meaning relief for an estimated 30,000 travellers. However, a number of issues are still to be resolved for pilots based in Belfast and Gatwick.

Speaking after the talks at Dublin's Labour Relations Commission concluded, Aer Lingus HR manager Michael Grealy said he hoped the proposals will eliminate the need for any industrial action next week and later this summer. However pilots' union IALPA pointed out that the action has only been "suspended" until July 1.

A spokesman said the dispute centred on a shortage of pilots, adding that rosters were chaotic last summer, with pilots regularly forced to work six out of seven days throughout the high season.

Up to 30,000 passengers fly with Aer Lingus every day, but the airline said just 3,500 had cancelled or rescheduled their flights for later in the week. However, the threat of potential industrial action is likely to make passengers nervous about booking with the airline until the matter has been fully resolved.

Background

Between 20 and 30 Aer Lingus pilots based in Belfast are members of trade union Impact. During yesterday's discussions at the Labour Relations Commission, agreement was reached on the main issues of concern for pilots based in Belfast and Gatwick. These issues included management of the peak summer-period roster, the development of a longer term form of roster and the issue of Belfast-based pilots being paid less than others.

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