Aer Lingus has served legal proceedings on the trade union Siptu seeking damages of "multiple millions" arising from the planned strike action which was scheduled to take place at airports around the country today.
In a statement tonight, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar described the Aer Lingus action as "unhelpful".
He added: "All parties should be focusing on the core problems so that the public wont be inconvenienced by future strikes, and so that members of the pension scheme can get clarity regarding their future entitlements."
Earlier this week the High Court granted injunctions to the Dublin Airport Authority which prevented the planned four-hour strike taking place.
However, Aer Lingus claimed it had already incurred significant losses to revenue as well as additional costs as a result of the planned dispute.
The airline had hired in additional aircraft to deal with a projected backlog of passengers if the dispute had gone ahead. The airline said its advance booking had been affected by the strike threat and it had also had to alter its schedules, re-book passengers and cancel flights.
Aer Lingus confirmed that it had today served proceedings on Siptu seeking compensation for damage to its business and for forcing it to break contracts with customers as a result of the planned dispute.
Highly placed sources in the airline said it amounts involved would be “multiple millions”.
A spokesman for Ryanair said the airline was considering its options in relation to any similar action for damages against Siptu.
Siptu said it would fully oppose the Aer Lingus action. “”We will be consulting with our legal advisers over the next number of days and we will be vigorously resisting this action in the courts.”
The planned strike was over the pension scheme which covers staff both in Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority.
In its claim, Aer Lingus is seeking a declaration that the secret ballot held by Siptu in relation to the planned strike was unlawful and not in compliance with industrial relations legislation.
It is also seeking a declaration that the notification of the planned industrial action was “wrongful and unlawful”.
The airline is seeking damages for breach of contract, for unlawful interference with its business, and damages for inducing a breach of contract with its customers.
Aer Lingus also wrote to Siptu pension policy advisor Dermot O’Loughlin and said it was holding him and the union responsible and liable for the losses and damages sustained.
In the letter Aer Lingus director of change and engagement Sean Murphy said the airline resreved its right to take any additional necessary action, including court action, to prevent any further loss and damage to the company.
In a statement Aer Lingus said: “Siptu’s decision on the 12th March to stand down its work stoppage planned for the 14th March was too little too late.
The damage had already been done. The decision came less than 36 hours before the stoppage was due to commence. The cloud of uncertainty created by the strike threat has damaged Aer Lingus’ business and disrupted thousands of our customers.”
“The changes made to our flight schedule, to circumvent the planned strike, could not be undone at such short notice. Any further changes to the revised schedule would only have caused further inconvenience and confusion to our customers.”
The airline said that significant damage had been inflicted on its advance bookings and the costs of hiring in additional aircraft to re accommodate customers had already been incurred and could not be avoided.
“This is yet another occasion where the trade union has cynically caused damage, threatening a strike, only to withdraw their strike notice at the last minute.
“We have consistently indicated to Siptu that is was our intention to hold it liable for damages caused to our company. Therefore, we have now issued proceedings against the trade union, in the High Court, seeking recovery of the losses inflicted upon Aer Lingus.”
Meanwhile the legal move was strongly criticised as “corporate bullying “ by independent TD and former Labour Party Minister of State Roisin Shortall .
She said the actions of the airline were “truly appalling”.
“Reports suggest that not only has the company issued proceedings against Siptu but also against named employees of the union. This is a despicable act of corporate bullying. It entirely undermines the right to collective bargaining, the rights of organised labour, and indeed the right to withdraw labour in an industrial dispute. The implications go well beyond the Aer Lingus pension dispute.”
Ms Shortall said the Government needed to make clear whether it was consulted about the action by Aer Lingus prior to it being taken and if, as a major shareholder, it did anything at all to stop it.
“It needs to make it clear to Aer Lingus that, as a major shareholder, it is unacceptable for a company to sue a union and their employees over its role in a legitimate industrial dispute," she said. “This heavy-handed approach by Aer Lingus will be a PR disaster for the company, but it also raises serious questions for the Labour Party. If the Labour Party can’t stand up to the kind of action engaged in by Aer Lingus, then what is the point of it being in Government?”