Ministers urge Siptu to call off planned Aer Lingus strike

Pension row talks breakdown leads to threat of industrial action

Union members at Aer Lingus and the DAA voted for industrial action early last month

Union members at Aer Lingus and the DAA voted for industrial action early last month

Sat, Mar 1, 2014, 08:31

Government ministers have urged unions to call off a planned strike that could ground air travel in and out of the Republic at the start of St Patrick’s weekend.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar described the proposed industrial action as “unnecessary.” He warned of the likely chaos if it were to proceed.

“It is a particularly disruptive weekend to choose. If the strike goes ahead it will inconvenience hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.

Talks between Aer Lingus and union representatives aimed at defusing a row over workers’ pensions ended in deadlock yesterday. Negotiations between unions and the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) earlier in the week ended with a similar result.

Following the breakdown of talks, Siptu formally notified Aer Lingus and Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports that its members plan to stop work between 5am and 9am on Friday March 14th, the day on which the St Patrick’s Festival is scheduled to begin.

Any strike would likely ground flights and lead to the closure of the Republic’s biggest airports as staff in critical services such as fire crews and air traffic control are union members.

More than 140,000 adults came from overseas to Dublin for St Patrick’s Festival last year, according to Fáilte Ireland, which estimated the festival to be worth €121 million to the Irish economy.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said it would be unfortunate if the strike was to take place on a weekend when there would be a worldwide focus on Ireland.

“I hope it’s possible to use industrial relations mechanisms to talk it out,” she said.

Despite calls for the sides to resume talks, a spokesman for Siptu said it has not received any contact from either Aer Lingus or the DAA.

Union members at Aer Lingus and the DAA voted for industrial action early last month over a €780 million deficit in the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme (IASS), a pension scheme they jointly operate.

Earlier this week, Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller said the airline might be prepared to increase the €140 million it has pledged to a new retirement fund.

Separately, Siptu has accused Mr Varadkar of using spin and misinformation in an attempt to undermine employees at Irish Rail.

This comes after Siptu members voted at the company voted against proposed changes to their terms and conditions of employment earlier this week.

Workers in Irish Rail voted by 71 per cent to 29 per cent to reject Labour Relations Commission (LRC) proposals in a ballot held yesterday, a vote which Mr Varadkar described as “regrettable.”

The union said Mr Varadkar had given the impression in media interviews that employees at Irish Rail had received major wage increases in recent years, when they had in fact accepted a wage freeze since 2008.

Irish Rail is looking to save €8.7 million this year, with most of the savings to come from cutting direct pay.