AIR travellers face disruption next month as workers at Aer Lingus plan a two-hour strike in an escalation of a pensions row.
About 2,500 cabin crew, ground and administrative staff plan to down tools between 10am and 12 noon on November 19 at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports, causing disruption for passengers in the latest threat of industrial action to hit the carrier.
It is understood that outbound transatlantic flights will bear the brunt of the disruption should the strike go ahead.
Unions agreed to press ahead with the work stoppage after talks broke down last week between the airline and unions at the industrial relations troubleshooting body, the Labour Relations Commission (LRC).
The complex dispute centres on a near €750m deficit in the defined benefit pension pot, known as the Irish Aviation Superannuation Scheme (IASS), which also involves workers from the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA).
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar called for both sides to resume talks and avert disruption for passengers.
"Strike action is regrettable. It will inconvenience thousands of tourists, travellers and business people and will damage the financial position of both Aer Lingus and the airports, which is of no benefit to anyone working in aviation in the long term," Mr Varadkar said. Fianna Fail said Mr Varadkar must step in to prevent the strike.
Transport spokesman Timmy Dooley said: "The strike action at Aer Lingus affecting flights to and from Dublin, Cork and Shannon can be averted but Minister Varadkar must show leadership on this issue.
"How long will the Minister delay, as potential disruption hangs over passengers and the economy?" he added.
The unions -- Impact, SIPTU, the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) and Unite -- were to serve notice of industrial action yesterday and claimed the work stoppage could be averted if Aer Lingus agreed to attend the Labour Court to resolve the issue.
They said any disruption "will be solely due to the decision of Aer Lingus management to stop talking to staff representatives about their future retirement incomes."
Aer Lingus has refused to go to the Labour Court, stating it does not want a resolution imposed that may not be agreeable to its shareholders.
It wants to freeze pay at the airline for four years in return for a one-off payment into the scheme. It also wants to freeze contributions to the defined benefit plan. The carrier said it would be talking to its lawyers when the unions serve notice, but stressed it believed returning to the LRC was the only option. "The company remains available to resume discussions with the union groups at the LRC in order to reach a solution," the airline said.
The Government holds a 25pc stake in Aer Lingus, while budget carrier Ryanair has just under 30pc.
The latter has opposed any future pension payouts to workers and has offered to provide short-haul aircraft at market rates during the stoppage.
HOW HAS IT COME TO THIS? BUSINESS 32