Air travellers face travel chaos on St Patrick’s weekend
Pensions row threatens to shut Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports
Dermot O’Loughlin, head of Siptu’s pensions advisory committee, said the union’s members have a number of concerns that Aer Lingus did not address. Photograph: Eric Luke
Travel chaos could threaten the run-up to this year’s St Patrick’s weekend. Workers at the Republic’s three main airports and airline, Aer Lingus, are considering striking just days before the bank holiday, which traditionally marks the start of the tourist season.
Siptu members at Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports and at Aer Lingus voted for industrial action last week in a row over a €780 million hole in their pension fund – the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme.
While fresh proposals from the scheme’s trustees raised hopes that such action could be averted, a senior union source said yesterday that members have proceeded to form industrial action committees and strike notice could be served next week.
Industrial action could follow two weeks later, on Thursday, March 13th, a day before the official St Patrick’s Festival begins on Friday, March 14th and shortly before the national holiday itself on Monday, March 17th.
A strike could shut the three airports, as Siptu’s membership includes staff who provide safety services without which they cannot open. A total of 240,000 people are expected to visit Dublin and Cork for the festival, with a high proportion of them flying in from abroad.
State-owned DAA, responsible for Dublin and Cork airports, wrote to Siptu on Monday inviting the union to meet to discuss the trustees’ proposals and to “seek a fair and balanced resolution”, but the union has yet to respond. The company has already described the threat of industrial action as “unhelpful”.
In the latest bid to end the deadlock, the trustees propose reducing payments to pensioners and a 20 per cent cut in the benefits built up by current and former workers at both companies who have yet to retire. They stop short of other controversial steps, such as raising the scheme’s pension age.
The resolution also involves transferring existing members to a new defined contribution plan into which Aer Lingus will put €140 million and DAA €50 million. This was recommended by the Labour Court in May 2013.
Aer Lingus reiterated in a statement this week that it was willing to make the lump sum payment. The airline pointed out that the trustees must first formalise their funding proposal and get the Pensions Board to approve it.
However, Dermot O’Loughlin, head of Siptu’s pensions advisory committee, yesterday said the union’s members have a number of concerns that the statement did not address.
He said the Labour Court recommendations are based on the scheme’s position at the end of 2012, and pointed out that the trustees’ proposals are due to be implemented on December 31st, two years later. “That has added two more years of accrued benefits,” he said.
Mr O’Loughlin added that Aer Lingus also awarded staff increases last year – in line with the Labour Court recommendation – which has also had an impact on the fund.
He said the trustees’ proposals do not allow for revaluation – increasing benefits from the superannuation scheme in line with inflation. He argued that as a result, those paying into the fund will have to accept both a 20 per cent cut in what they expected their pension to pay and a fall in its actual value.
Aer Lingus said it had nothing to add to the statement issued this week. The statement says the airline’s advice is that its proposed contribution to a new scheme is enough to meet the targets set by the Labour Court.
“The company will reassess the matter once it has sight of the actual draft funding proposal,” it adds.