High Court to rule today on legal bid to stop planned strike in airports on Friday

DAA says industrial action could cause havoc and disruption to thousands of passengers


The High Court will rule today on a legal bid by the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and Ryanair to prevent a four-hour strike planned by the trade union Siptu from going ahead on Friday morning.

The proposed work stoppages at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports between 5am and 9am on Friday arises from a long-running dispute over cuts in pension benefits at Aer Lingus and the DAA.

In proceedings against Siptu, Ryanair and the DAA asked the High Court to grant injunctions preventing the proposed industrial action taking place, which would apply pending the outcome of the full hearing of the cases.

They claimed the strike was “illegal” and not “a valid trade dispute” as defined by the 1990 Industrial Relations Act. They also maintained the stoppage would “cause havoc” and “maximum disruption” to thousands of passengers.

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The DAA claimed the action would effectively close the airports on one of the busiest weekends of the year, costing “millions of euro”.


Bona fide dispute
In opposing the applications, Siptu, represented by Richard Kean SC, argued the planned stoppages arose out of a bona fide trade dispute concerning the pension rights of workers. Both the DAA and the Ryanair's applications for injunctions were misconceived, Mr Kean added.

After hearing from the parties, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said he wanted to give the matter some thought but, given the urgency of the case, he would rule on the issues today.

Last February, Siptu members at Aer Lingus and the DAA voted for industrial action over a €780 million deficit in the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme (IASS), a joint pension scheme that covers staff in the two companies.

After separate negotiations between unions, the DAA and Aer Lingus ended without a resolution late last month, Siptu notified the DAA, Cork and Shannon airports and Aer Lingus that its members planned to stop work on March 14th.

Mark Connaughton SC, for the DAA, argued yesterday that the proposed strike was illegal on grounds that it did not arise out of a valid trade dispute. The dispute involved other parties and was essentially with the pension scheme trustee. He maintained the ballot of Siptu workers was flawed because the union had not complied with its own rules.


Agreements breached
Mr Connaughton said the proposed strike breached agreements that Siptu members employed in important sectors, including the airports' fire and security sectors, could not take industrial action until certain measures had been complied with.

The DAA’s position was fully supported by Ryanair, which, the court heard, would have 93 flights affected by the proposed stoppage.

Martin Hayden SC, for Ryanair, said, unusually, his client was "in total agreement with the DAA". He said Ryanair was "caught in the crossfire" of a dispute involving other parties.

On the dispute over the IASS, Mr Hayden argued that Siptu had abandoned industrial relations mechanisms set up by the State and had reverted to “Victorian-era tactics”.

In reply, Mr Kean, for Siptu, said workers had “a constitutional right to strike” over what they believed was a bona fide trade dispute, which in this case related to their pension rights. He rejected the claims that the ballots of Siptu members were invalid.

Siptu had only balloted workers involved in the IASS, as they would be the only workers taking part in the stoppage, he said.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent