Aer Lingus industrial action threat increases


THE POSSIBILITY of industrial action at Aer Lingus in November appeared to move a step closer yesterday and could involve full stoppages for day-long periods at a time.

The ongoing row at Aer Lingus over the €748 million deficit in the pension scheme worsened on Thursday when talks at the Labour Relations Commission were adjourned indefinitely.

Aer Lingus has refused to go to the Labour Court on the issue. It wants any proposal on a pension settlement to be agreed by its shareholders rather than decided at the Labour Court.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said: “It would be unusual for the Labour Court to hear a case related to a pension fund. Aer Lingus is a PLC and it’s up to management and the board to take a decision on these matters.”

Ryanair yesterday offered to provide fully crewed, short-haul aircraft to Aer Lingus at “market rates” to enable it to continue to fly without disruptions.

Ryanair owns 29.8 per cent of Aer Lingus and has opposed any additional pension payout to workers. It described the unions’ threat of action as “industrial blackmail”.

Aer Lingus has previously hired Ryanair aircraft to fill gaps in its schedule at times of dispute with its unions. It is understood that Aer Lingus would consider doing this again if the unions follow through on their threat to take action.

As the possibility of industrial action at Aer Lingus increased it was learned that any such action might also seek to target transatlantic services and other specific flights known to be particularly lucrative for generating revenue for the airline. A code-sharing agreement with Abu Dhabi airline Etihad might also be affected.

Etihad feeds traffic into Aer Lingus’s network at Dublin while the Irish airline feeds passengers into Etihad’s 10 times-a-week service to Abu Dhabi.

The transfer of baggage from one airline to the other could be disrupted, invoking a penalty clause in the agreement that would impact on Aer Lingus financially.

The unions at the airline are to meet on Tuesday. Union sources said they would be required to give 14 days’ notice to the airline, which would result in any action taking place in the second half of November.

Staff at the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), who are members of the same pension fund as personnel in Aer Lingus, are not involved in the current row.

The DAA and Aer Lingus are due to meet today. They DAA and Aer Lingus are pursuing separate proposals with their unions.

Unions have indicated to their members in recent weeks that the DAA’s proposals are more generous than Aer Lingus.

Siptu organiser Dermot O’Loughlin said it was disappointing that the talks at the Labour Relations Commission had broken down. “It is disappointing that there has been no progress in the discussions to resolve the crisis which threatens thousands of employees with financial ruin in their retirement years,” he said.