Business

Thursday 28 August 2014

Fears of crippling strikes at country's main airports and Aer Lingus intensify

Published 21/02/2014 | 17:30

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Siptu workers at Aer Lingus have voted for all out strike
Fears of crippling strikes at the country’s main airports and Aer Lingus have intensified

Fears of crippling strikes at the country’s main airports and Aer Lingus have intensified after trade unions vowed to coordinate any industrial action that may take place in coming weeks.

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It has raised the stakes in a dispute that could result in St Patrick’s Day festivities being hit.

To date, only Siptu has balloted its members in a long-running dispute over a troubled pension scheme. Most of the 4,270 combined Aer Lingus, DAA and Shannon staff who are active members of the troubled Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme (IASS) are represented by Siptu.

Those members have already voted in favour of both industrial and strike action, putting Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports, as well as Aer Lingus, on course for unrest.  Siptu will be in a position next Wednesday to serve strike notice.

But other trade unions have now agreed to start consulting with and balloting their members for industrial action, heightening fears that critical access to and from the country could be locked down. That consultation process is due to be completed within two weeks.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions industrial officer Liam Berney claimed that there’s now a real prospect of the three main airports and Aer Lingus being shut down simultaneously unless the pension difficulties can be resolved.

The defined benefit IASS scheme has a deficit of over €700m.

Last year, Aer Lingus agreed to a Labour Court recommendation that would see it inject a total of €140m into a new defined contribution scheme for its staff members.

The DAA also agreed to stump up €60m for a new separate defined contribution scheme in respect of its workers.

Unions have claimed the amounts being offered aren’t enough. Just days ago, Aer Lingus restated that its proposed €140m lumpsum contribution for a new scheme remains sufficient.

Mr Berney has said that unless both companies agree to put in more money, then the prospect of industrial action remained real.

The plan agreed last year between the companies and the Labour Court would have entailed the IASS being frozen and its funds invested by the trustee in an effort to eliminate the deficit over a number of years.

But the trustee’s plans hit a roadblock with the Pensions Board.

Now the trustee has said that a fresh plan will see retired members of the IASS shoulder a 10pc cut in their benefits, while members of the IASS who have not yet retired will see 20pc knocked off their accrued benefits.

The trustee has warned that if the solution isn’t accepted, then further cuts to benefits will be the most likely result.

Aer Lingus has said the threat of strike action is unhelpful. The DAA wrote to Siptu yesterday inviting its representatives to a meeting next Wednesday for “formal engagement towards a fair and balanced resolution of these long-running pension issues, as a matter of urgency”.

The DAA’s head of group industrial relations, John McCormack, told union organiser Dermot O’Loughlin, that the company remains open to discussion fresh issues arising from the pensions issue.

John Mulligan

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