WORKING longer shifts with less time off are the core issues at the centre of the crippling Aer Lingus cabin crew dispute.
The row over new cabin crew rosters will ground more than 10 flights to European destinations again today, causing chaos for hundreds of passengers.
The exact reasons for the ongoing dispute have remained unclear -- with union Impact highlighting changes in rosters to meal breaks, days off and 'rest time' between flights.
But last night, Aer Lingus insisted the rules on many of these issues have only changed slightly -- to cover exceptional situations -- and claimed staff did not want to spend more time in the air despite agreeing to do so.
It said the key issue was that they would have to work longer shifts that might include two round trips in a day.
This means travelling to and from a destination in one day -- for example, Dublin-London-Dublin-London-Dublin.
The airline wants to increase the time the cabin crew spend in the air by another 20 hours a year, from 830 hours to 850 hours annually -- or 16 hours a week -- as part of its €97m survival plan.
However, Aer Lingus said staff on the new rosters would still only work an average of just under six hours a day, which includes time in the air and on the ground, with shifts ranging from two hours 20 minutes to 11 hours and 55 minutes.
It said the longest shifts were rare, and represented less than 1pc of its entire schedule.
"If your average working day is less than six hours, there is still plenty of time left to spend with your family," said a spokesperson.
The airline claimed the changes it was making to rosters were standard international practice. Cabin crew at other airlines, including Ryanair, work up to 900 hours flying time a year.
Last night, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary said the Aer Lingus cabin crew were "not overworked people" and were being asked to spend less than 18 hours in the air each week.
He said his cabin crew worked tougher rosters that meant they have four or five days on and three days off, and the arrangement at Aer Lingus was much better.
"The staff at Aer Lingus are doing less than that and we're hearing that they can't manage their children or their lifestyles," he told the Irish Independent.
But Impact claimed the time that cabin crew get off from work was not what it used to be. It said they were entitled to one less day off a month -- a minimum of seven days rather than the previous eight.
However, the airline said cabin crew were entitled to 16 days within two months under the new rules.
Another roster change means the cabin crew have to accept their working day can be delayed by up to three hours when they turn up for work, if there was a technical issue with the plane for example.
However, the airline said the previous arrangement meant cabin crew accepted delays of up to two hours.
Impact said the airline had halved the minimum 'rest time' they get between transatlantic flights from 24 hours to 12 hours.
The airline accepted that 12 hours is the minimum requirement, but the norm is that there is usually a 24-hour break between flights.
It said, in addition, that staff get two days off after any transatlantic round trip.
On meal breaks, Aer Lingus said staff could still take a break although the union claims meal breaks have been axed on all European flights.
Impact has branded the changes "draconian" and "anti-family".
There is no sign of a breakthrough in the dispute as the airline held disciplinary meetings yesterday with four of 200 staff it had struck off the payroll for refusing to work the rosters.
Impact has asked the Labour Court to intervene, but this is unlikely unless the court also gets a request from the airline.
Another 14 flights were cancelled yesterday during a second week of disruption that has affected more than 5,000 passengers with the cancellation of 60-plus flights.