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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Air travel chaos as unions vow to strike at same time

Published 22/02/2014 | 02:30

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An Aer Lingus Group Plc jet lands at O'Hare International Airport during an event to mark the opening of a new runway in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. The total cost of Runway 10 Center/28 Center (10C-28C) was $1.3 billion and will allow the airport to increase landings per hour from 88 to 106, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg
An Aer Lingus jet

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

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It has raised the stakes in a dispute that could disrupt St Patrick's Day festivities.

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.

But Aer Lingus last night warned SIPTU that it will resort to legal action to prevent unions taking industrial action.

In a strongly worded letter to SIPTU's pension advisor, the airline's director of change and engagement Sean Murphy questioned the situation that the union was restricting its strike ballot to members of the IASS pension scheme but members of other pension schemes were not being given a vote.

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 lump sum 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 remains real.

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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 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.

The DAA wrote to Siptu yesterday inviting its representatives to a meeting next Wednesday.

Irish Independent

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