Expert Panel established to solve Aer Lingus pensions dispute

Possibility that strike action could lead to closure of airports on St Patrick’s weekend

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar today again called on Siptu to call off its planned action. He said the dispute was very complicated with one semi-state company, one private company and a company that no longer exists involved.

 

An expert panel is to be established to investigate a resolution to the ongoing dispute that threatens to ground air travel in and out of the Republic at the start of St Patrick’s weekend.

Ibec and the Congress of Trade Unions have each nominated an industrial relations expert to lead the investigation, who will be supported by financial experts. The panel comprises of Brendan McGinty and Laura Gallagher from KPMG and Peter McLoone and Eugene McMahon of Mazars.

The newly-established expert panel has been asked to make a preliminary report to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Ibec and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, by the end of March.

“The Government, Ibec and Congress are of the view that a final effort should be made to resolve this dispute without recourse to industrial action, which would be very disruptive for the travelling public and could have very serious consequences for the companies concerned, their employees, members of the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme (IASS) and for the economy,” a joint statement said.

Government ministers last week urged Siptu to call off its proposed strike, which it is feared would likely ground flights and lead to the closure of the Republic’s biggest airports at the start of St Patrick’s Festival.

Union members at Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority (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.

Talks between the airline and union representatives aimed at defusing the row over workers’ pensions ended in deadlock last week. Negotiations between unions and the DAA also ended with a similar result.

Following the breakdown of discussions, 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.

The sides are mainly divided over the amount of cash that Aer Lingus and the DAA have asked to put towards a new pension scheme to which members of the IASS would transfer as part of any settlement.

The Labour Court last year recommended that Aer Lingus put up a €140 million lump sum, while the airport authority contribute €50 million.

Both companies agreed to this but Siptu has said these sums are no longer enough to solve the problem.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar today again called on Siptu to call off its planned action.

He said the dispute was extremely complicated with one semi-state company, one private company and a company that no longer exists involved.

He added that there was no time limit to the negotiations and he expected the expert group’s report to be available in “more weeks to months than days to weeks”.

The DAA welcomed the announcement of the expert panel and also called on Siptu to withdraw its notice of industrial action.

“DAA has stated consistently that resolution of the pensions issue is its main priority and that the planned disruption to economic activity and the travel plans of thousands of passengers by strike action, is neither warranted nor helpful,” it said in a statement.