A planned two-hour work stoppage at Aer Lingus, which threatens to seriously disrupt flights later this month, could be called off after management at the airline agreed to re-engage in talks about a massive pension deficit.
Aer Lingus management last night agreed to pleas from unions and business to help the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) prepare a report on a possible solution to the pension issue.
About 14,000 former and current staff at Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) are served by the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme.
The pension fund has a €700m-plus deficit that needs to be plugged. Unless something is done to address the deficit, employees retiring in future could see their entitlements severely curtailed.
Aer Lingus said last night that it would enter talks "on a voluntary and non-binding basis" after the talks were brokered by employers' group IBEC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).
Any agreement may have to be put to Aer Lingus shareholders, the airline added.
About 2,500 cabin crew, ground staff and administration workers are due to walk off the job at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports in a row over a €748m deficit in their pension scheme.
Matt Staunton, national secretary of Impact, the largest of the unions at the airline, welcomed the intervention in the dispute and said it was ready to attend further discussions at the LRC and Labour Court.
"This is a significant and welcome development which has the potential to quickly move us towards a resolution based on the needs of the company, the pension scheme and the staff concerned," he said.
SIPTU will hold an emergency meeting of its Aer Lingus pension committee this morning to discuss the proposal.
The Group of Unions will have to meet before the notice of industrial action is formally lifted.
The plan put forward by IBEC and ICTU will see chief executive of the LRC Kieran Mulvey report to both sides on the outcome of the discussions to date and outline how he believes the row can be resolved.
Both parties will then consider his report and state their positions.
Where there are outstanding matters, both sides are "encouraged" to refer those matters to the Labour Court for an interim recommendation.
That recommendation will then be considered by a technical group of pensions experts at the LRC.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has welcomed the ICTU and IBEC's call for talks.
"(The) congress and IBEC have charted a sensible way forward," Mr Varadkar said.
"I urge the parties involved to respond positively to this initiative, to re-engage on the basis outlined in the joint statement so that a balanced and sustainable solution can be found for all involved," he added.