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Thursday 18 September 2014

Aer Lingus and union to resume talks in strike row

Anne-Marie Walsh and Paul Melia

Published 10/06/2014 | 02:30

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Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller said the strike was 'the most damaging industrial action for more than a decade'
Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller said the strike was 'the most damaging industrial action for more than a decade'
Scheme: Transport Minister Leo Varadkar
Scheme: Transport Minister Leo Varadkar

CABIN crew have agreed to join Aer Lingus in talks with an industrial relations troubleshooter but have refused to lift next week's strike action.

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Even as both sides agreed to discussions tomorrow over a rosters issue, the airline continued preparations for possible stoppages, as cabin crew have not moved to call off the two one-day strikes set to hit travellers next week.

Aer Lingus swiftly agreed to the Labour Court talks, while trade union IMPACT staged a meeting before moving to accept the intervention from the troubleshooter to try and broker a solution. Yet, as the impending talks approach, IMPACT has insisted the strike action remains in place as both sides enter the Labour Court tomorrow.

Aer Lingus said it has not finalised its contingency plans as cabin crew continue to prepare to mount pickets during the potential 24-hour work stoppages on Monday and Wednesday next week.

It says it has not decided what flights may be cancelled or drawn up a schedule of alternative flights for those booked to travel.

Up to 80,000 Aer Lingus customers booked to fly during two strikes next week cannot get refunds or an alternative flight yet. However, it is understood the airline has stopped taking bookings on those two dates.

Passengers are considering their options after their travel plans were thrown into uncertainty due to the planned industrial action.

However, regional flights and flights to and from Belfast will not be affected.

Two new 24-hour strikes were announced last week after 28,000 passengers were hit by a one-day strike at the June Bank Holiday weekend.

Over 200 flights were grounded in what the national carrier's chief executive Christoph Mueller has described as "the most damaging industrial action for more than a decade".

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar yesterday accused both sides of "megaphone diplomacy" with one side threatening strikes, while the other threatened redundancies.

Earlier, Mr Varadkar had invited the airline and union to involve a third party in the talks to help "try and broker a compromise".

"Essentially what this is, is a dispute about rosters and everyone knows that sooner or later it's going to be sorted out by negotiation," he added.

Meanwhile, in a 'travel advisory', the airline told customers it would do all in its power to prevent any disruption.

"We sincerely apologise to customers for the uncertainty this threatened industrial action causes," it said. "Our operations team will now commence a planning process aimed at minimising the effects on our flight schedule."

Cabin crew want a 'five days on, three days off' rosters, which is worked by pilots. Management said it offered this at talks, as long as it did not cost it extra money; but talks broke down after IMPACT claimed it was given a "take-it-or-leave-it" proposal and that management refused to operate the roster on a trial basis.

Unviable

It said management wanted to roster cabin crew who fly short and long-haul flights solely for one or the other.

The union said this would immediately make the crewing of transatlantic flights unviable as staff could not meet their targets for flying hours, known as 'block hours'. It said this would "inevitably lead to hundreds of Irish jobs being exported to the USA".

But Mr Mueller claimed that when the airline told the union that certain "lifestyle requests" that were part of the rosters for years had to go, it no longer wanted the '5:3' roster. He said it only wanted it for 320 cabin crew in the winter, on a trial basis.

The airline also claimed the talks did not break down, but adjourned for the union to consider its proposals.

Irish Independent

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