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Sunday 21 September 2014

Fury over new strike threat at Aer Lingus

Summer air travel chaos feared over latest staff row

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

Published 07/05/2014 | 02:30

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Timmy Dooley: fears damage to tourism

AER Lingus passengers face a new strike threat this summer after a union representing 1,100 cabin crew warned that industrial action is likely in a row over rosters.

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Crews based in Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports are expected to back industrial action in a ballot later this week, which would pose a new crisis for the airline heading into the busy summer period – possibly as early as later this month.

This is the latest in a series of strike warnings that have threatened to ground flights at busy times.

And business leaders have warned the potential strike action at the airline is causing "untold damage" and deterring visitors.

Mark Fielding, head of the business body ISME, warned that the threat of strike action would have a serious impact on the economy.

This would be the third time that Aer Lingus passengers faced the prospect of industrial action in just six months.

"There comes a time when somebody must shout stop. This is doing untold damage to the international reputation of Ireland," he said.

Stephen McNally, President of the Irish Hotels Federation, said the matter needed to be resolved immediately. "At the end of May we're heading into a bank holiday weekend in the UK so the timing is disastrous. The UK is our biggest market. This will affect many of those tourists planning to visit."

Fianna Fail transport spokesman Timmy Dooley warned it could hit hoteliers and other tourism enterprises hard this summer and called on Transport Minister Leo Varadkar to intervene.

Earlier this year industrial action was averted at the 11th hour, just before St Patrick's weekend in March – that row focused on a €780m hole in SIPTU members' pension fund, the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme. Now a fresh row involving cabin crew in the IMPACT union again threatens to ground flights.

IMPACT assistant general secretary Michael Landers warned that Continued on Page 2

industrial action is high on the agenda because the airline had imposed "ridiculous" working conditions on staff.

"My view is it is likely to come to that," he said, when asked about the prospect of a strike.

The Irish Independent understands that IMPACT is considering rolling work stoppages as we head into the busy summer travel period.

"This dispute is about rosters and rosters are at their worst when traffic is busy. We are concerned that Aer Lingus is using delaying tactics to get over the summer," said Mr Landers.

This is the third strike warning in the space of six months, each of which has threatened to ground flights at busy times of year.

The IMPACT staff are also being balloted separately on industrial action, including strikes, over a major deficit in their pension plan.

However, the latest row is the culmination of a bitter dispute over rosters on both European and transatlantic flights.

Cabin crew want to enjoy a "five day on, three day off" working schedule which is the norm for pilots.

The staff struck a deal with management on the roster issue three years ago, but relations have deteriorated since.

IMPACT claims working conditions worsened after a Dublin-San Francisco route was added. It accused management of imposing a "ridiculous" interpretation of the agreed roster.

Mr Landers said the company had shown its attitude by rejecting Labour Court findings on changes it wished to make to supervisors' contracts.

"We had a very difficult summer last year," said Mr Landers. "At the moment, cabin crew can be rostered to work any day. They get eight days off in 28, but might be rostered to work five with two off, or six days with one off.

"They might work 13 hours on the San Francisco flight and have two days off, but be back on an early shift after that. We are looking for more stable and predictable rosters."

The union met with chief executive Christoph Mueller last week and it is understood he discussed setting up a three-person internal dispute body to reach a compromise.

This body would represent staff and management and be chaired by an independent person.

But while union officials have agreed to co-operate with this, they doubt a compromise will be advanced by the body in enough time to avert the current threat.

STOPPAGES

It is understood that the crew are considering a series of work stoppages. Sources said if action goes ahead, it will not be later than early June.

"This isn't something that will drag on for months and months," said Mr Landers.

Mr Dooley said it was time the Government "stepped up to the plate" and tackled the issue.

"They need to put on the table what funding they're in a position to put in place and stop playing poker with the tourism industry," he warned, as he called on Mr Varadkar to step in.

"This threat has been around for some time, but the Government has continued to ignore the concerns of workers, people who have retired, and those who have deferred pension entitlements."

Irish Independent

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