Much of Ireland’s air traffic is to be paralysed next week after Aer Lingus pilots tonight agreed to a 48-hour strike.
Massive disruption is expected during the walkout, at the height of the busy summer holiday season, in protest at the pay and conditions being offered at the airline’s new base in Belfast.
The move of Aer Lingus’ Shannon to Heathrow Airport routes to the North has already provoked fury among business, tourist, trade union and religious leaders in the west of the country, who say the region will be devastated from the pull out.
Now airline bosses are facing further headache as every one of their 480 pilots will stage a full strike from midnight next Monday to midnight on Wednesday sparking chaos for national and international travellers.
“We are not going to allow Aer Lingus to treat its Belfast-based pilots as second class citizens who can be paid less and treated worse than their colleagues in Dublin,” insisted Captain Evan Cullen, President of the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) branch of trade union IMPACT.
He claimed Aer Lingus does not intend to honour existing collective agreements for pilots at the new Belfast International Airport base, at Aldergrove, Co Antrim.
He said this was a flagrant breach of commitments made by the airline to its employees in advance of last year’s stock market flotation.
“Aer Lingus has freely entered into collective agreements that cover all pilots employed by the airline and we just want the company to honour its commitments,” he said.
Trade union sources tonight insisted they would be stepping up their industrial action if there is no resolution of the matter after next week’s walkout.