A four hour-stoppage by workers at Aer Lingus and the country’s three main airports on March 14 could ground hundreds of thousands of passengers both here and across the globe.
It is feared that while the action by Siptu members in a dispute over their pension scheme will only shut the Dublin, Cork and Shannon airport terminals from 5am-9am, the knock-on effect at a busy time so close to St Patrick’s Day, will be huge.
Informed sources pointed out that mornings are by far the busiest and most important part of airlines’ and airports’ schedules.
The country’s two largest airlines Ryanair and Aer Lingus base many of their planes here. If they do not operate their first flights out of the airports at 5am or 6am, that could mean the onward schedules back to Ireland and to other destinations across Europe will also be severely impacted.
One source said the risk of going over crew flying hours may mean transatlantic and other longer haul flights which are due to land into or take off from Ireland will not be able to wait for the airports to re-open, and they and possibly subsequent flights may also have to be cancelled.
Siptu said its decision to hold the action on March 14 followed “the refusal of the companies (Aer Lingus, Dublin Airport Authority and Shannon Airport Authority) to engage in meaningful talks or to present reasonable or fair proposals during discussions in recent days aimed at resolving the pensions crisis”.
Those discussions are over how to address the near €800m deficit in the Irish Airline Superannuation Scheme (IASS). The trustees of that scheme have said members face a cut of 20% in their benefits. Siptu wants the companies to ensure its members get 100% of their entitlements and that means upping their contribution from €110m in the case of Aer Lingus and €50m in the case of DAA.
Aer Lingus condemned the union’s “unhelpful and unwelcome” action and accused Siptu of trying to entirely abandon a Labour Court recommendation on the matter in pursuit of additional funding.
“It is willing to damage Aer Lingus customers, the company, the tourism sector, Ireland’s international trade, the broader Irish economy, and our international reputation in pursuit of its demands,” an airline spokesman said.
The DAA accused the union of “unsustainable and unreasonable pension demands”, and said the union was taking the action “without any meaningful engagement concerning the proposals of the trustee of the IASS pension scheme, which were only recently clarified, following a protracted three-year process”.
Meanwhile, industrial unrest on the rail network has also moved a step closer with the decision of four of the five unions at Iarnród Éireann, including driver unions Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union, to reject cost-saving proposals negotiated at the Labour Relations Commission.
For more than 12 months, unions and management have been in talks on the company’s requirement for €8.5m in savings, including €4.7m from the staff pay bill involving pay cuts for the 3,800 staff.
Following the latest ballot results, the company said it would be seeking an urgent referral of the pay and productivity proposals to the Labour Court.
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