Agents tell fliers to avoid troubled airline
TRAVEL agents are advising customers against flying with Aer Lingus this Christmas amid threats of a "devastating" all-out strike in a fortnight.
With bookings poised to plummet and the airline expected to announce €20m losses today, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey called on both sides in the dispute to restart talks on plans to outsource almost 1,300 jobs.
Opposition parties accused the minister of "standing idly by" when it was his responsibility to use the State's industrial relations mechanisms to avert a "potentially devastating strike".
Labour Transport Spokesperson Tommy Broughan said Mr Dempsey should "immediately facilitate discussions" between SIPTU and management, especially as the State has a 25pc shareholding in the carrier.
Pressure also mounted on Aer Lingus to rekindle negotiations with its biggest union, which broke down over a week ago, as The Irish Travel Agents Association revealed its members were recommending alternative flights due to the uncertainty.
It cautioned the parties in the row to urgently agree to radical cost cuts or watch Aer Lingus "go to the wall".
The warnings came as Aer Lingus is expected to announce losses between €20m and €22m for the year in an interim financial statement this morning.
Although the airline reported a 3.8pc rise in passenger numbers last month compared with last year, it is moving into an uncertain festive season after SIPTU served strike notice yesterday.
It issued the notice of action after management walked out of talks on its plans to make €74m savings by outsourcing and cutbacks. Under the terms of an agreement with the airline, the union cannot take industrial action before November 24.
SIPTU last night urged CEO Dermot Mannion to enter into "meaningful discussions on possible alternatives" through the social partnership mediation agency, the National Implementation Body.
As he served strike notice on the airline boss, SIPTU National Industrial Secretary Gerry McCormack claimed the union had made "every attempt" to resolve the dispute but the company withdrew from talks.
The chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association said customers were in confusion even though disputes between Aer Lingus and SIPTU, in particular, had a "track record of heavy posturing and empty commitments".
"My members are trying to find solutions for their customers and are giving priority to alternatives to Aer Lingus," said Simon Nugent. "They are backing away from Aer Lingus flights because there is a higher risk of disruption to them."
Aer Lingus said it was very disappointed with the SIPTU ballot result and "the uncertainty created for customers".
Last night, Aer Lingus pointed out that none of the 10 routes operated from Belfast International Airport will be affected by the threatened industrial action.