Airline row festers on

Resolution at Aer Lingus still seems a long way off, writes Stephen Rogers

WHEN Ibec and ICTU asked the Labour Relations Commission to take another crack at resolving the Aer Lingus pensions dispute, the commission staff would have been forgiven for uttering a deep sigh of exasperation.

The talks broke down less than three weeks ago, with the chasm between the two sides the only thing they had in common.

LRC chief executive Kieran Mulvey even found the gap between both sides “impossible to bridge”, one union source admitted.

Yet last Friday, Ibec and ICTU swooped in to propose a process which appeared to lay much of the onus for a resolution at Mr Mulvey’s door once more.

A key line in the proposal read: “Having consulted with the ‘technical group’ established by the LRC to assist the talks process and having reviewed all outstanding issues, the chief executive of the LRC should report formally to the parties on the outcome of the discussions held to date and give his assessment of the measures needed to achieve a final resolution of those issues where differences remain.”

What had changed that should give optimism that Mr Mulvey should now be able to find those “measures” which so plainly did not exist just three weeks ago?

It could be ventured that Ibec and ICTU’s efforts were designed in the short term to primarily stave off disruption to thousands of passengers who otherwise would see their flights delayed or cancelled on Nov 19.

However, sources say they expected an even greater return than that and that Ibec and ICTU would not have put their necks on the line to propose the new talks if they did not think there was a prospect the liaison would be successful.

Certainly, the response from Impact, the union which represents the bulk of the airline’s cabin crew, appeared positive, particularly in acknowledging what the company needs from the process.

“This is a significant and welcome development which has the potential to quickly move us towards a resolution based on the needs of the company, the pension scheme and the staff concerned.” said the union’s national secretary Matt Staunton on Friday.

Whatever the intention, yesterday it appeared Ibec and ICTU’s efforts had been unsuccessful. Siptu shop stewards at the airline emerged from a meeting to say they were unwilling to call off their action if the airline persisted with seeking staff efficiencies in return for pumping up to €100m into the ailing pension scheme.

ICTU, in particular, will be reeling from a decision by Siptu, the biggest union under its umbrella, to essentially reject a proposal to which Ictu was a co-signatory.

Whether the talks will go ahead without Siptu remained unclear last night. All that is certain is that between now and Nov 19, there will be many more newspaper inches written on the Aer Lingus dispute. For intending passengers the only words they will want to see are “strike” and “off”.

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