The pensions dispute between Siptu and Aer Lingus and the DAA has the potential to cripple the union financially, write CIARAN HANCOCKand MARTIN WALL
THE ROW over pensions between Siptu and Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) has the potential to close down the country’s three main airports from next week.
However, a process aimed at resolving the dispute is continuing at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC). But while it is difficult to imagine that efforts would not intensify over the coming days to avert what would be a hugely damaging dispute, it seems that a consensus on the way forward is proving difficult to achieve given the number of parties and the amounts involved.
Next week is a highly important one in terms of tourism with lawyers from around the world scheduled to attend the International Bar Association Annual Conference taking place at the National Convention Centre in Dublin.
The stakes are also very high for the trade union Siptu, with Aer Lingus yesterday warning that they could sue it for up to €2 million per day in losses in the event of planned action going ahead.
Any success in this regard could cripple the union financially.
The DAA, which runs the three airports at Dublin, Cork and Shannon, is also to seek an injunction against the union on Friday in the High Court to prevent work stoppages taking place.
The dispute revolves around the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme, a pension pot operated jointly by Aer Lingus, the Dublin Airport Authority and SR Technics, which has left Ireland.
The scheme, which has in the region of 15,000 members, was in deficit to the tune of €700 million at the end of 2011 and talks have been taking place at the Labour Relations Commission since January in a bid to resolve the matter.
Unions want Aer Lingus and the DAA to make significant investments to close the deficit in the pension fund. It is understood the trustees have suggested that the companies should put in €250 million between them.
However other unions such as Impact, Unite, Mandate and the TEEU, which have members in the pension scheme, have not served notice of industrial action.
In its notice of industrial action Siptu said the dispute had arisen “as a consequence of the employer’s decision to renege on their obligations under the relevant collective agreement”.
In an affidavit to the High Court yesterday, John McCormack, group head of industrial relations at Dublin Airport, said Siptu’s threatened action would “ensure that there will be insufficient numbers of airport police and firemen and members of the airport search units throughout the day” so that Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports would have to close next Monday.
He said the closures would cause the DAA “irreparable and indeed immeasurable loss” and could expose it to sanctions by the aviation regulator.