Six Nations travel fear as airport staff call for strike
St Patrick's Weekend and the Six Nations Rugby tournament are just two of the major events that could be hit after workers at Dublin and Cork Airports sanctioned strike action over an ongoing pension dispute.
The threatened unrest – which could start as early as February 26 – comes after more than 1,000 workers at the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) voted by a large margin yesterday to approve industrial and strike action.
And with over 1,400 Aer Lingus and Shannon Airport workers likely to also approve strike action today, the scene is set for what could be some of the most damaging industrial action the airports have ever encountered.
The Irish Hotels Federation has raised fears that jobs in the tourism industry "will be jeopardised if there is any disruption to air access availability to Ireland".
"It is an urgent priority that a resolution is found," a spokesperson said.
Both Tourism Ireland and Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Leo Varadkar declined to comment.
Workers who are members of a troubled pension scheme were balloted by trade union Siptu after long-running efforts to address a huge €800m deficit at the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme (IASS) became grounded.
There are 1,693 active members of the IASS across Dublin, Shannon and Cork Airports.
For the ordinary worker who's part of the troubled scheme, they face the prospect of reduced benefits upon retirement and even having to work until they're 68 because of the deficit.
At the DAA, 94pc of balloted staff approved industrial action and 89pc sanctioned strike action. Workers also called for contributions to the IASS to be halted. "This demonstrates that staff at the airports are angry, disillusioned and frustrated that an acceptable resolution has not been found to the pensions crisis," said Siptu's Dermot O'Loughlin.
It's understood a decision will be made on Wednesday next week regarding a timetable for action. That means unrest could start two weeks later.
The DAA said it remained committed to finding a solution.
"Resolution of the difficulties faced by the IASS necessarily requires the co-operation of all stakeholders, including the trade unions," said a spokesman. "Given the scale of the deficit in the scheme, it will also require appropriate compromise."
Last year, Aer Lingus and the DAA agreed to stump up €200m between them to kick-start new defined contribution schemes for all employees in their respective firms. That plan would have seen the IASS frozen and its roughly €1.4bn in assets invested.
But the Pensions Board indicated that the investment plan for those assets would probably not be acceptable. The trustee of the scheme has still to submit a formal proposal to the Pensions Board to deal with the deficit.