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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Air controllers' strike to cause chaos for travellers

Anne-Marie Walsh

MORE than 20,000 passengers face chaos today when all flights at the three main airports are grounded as air traffic controllers walk off the job.

The workers, in dispute over the suspension of 15 colleagues, plan to cause a complete shutdown between 2pm and 6pm.

They warned that further stoppages could be on the way.

About 22,500 people are expected to suffer delays as more than 150 flights to and from Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports are halted for the four hours.

Transatlantic flights in the path of the Irish Aviation Authority's (IAA's) busiest station at Shannon Airport will also be affected as the 300 controllers down tools to attend mandatory union meetings.

Their employer, the IAA, admitted it had no back-up cover as controllers were in short supply because their skills must be updated at least every six months. It said the air traffic controllers were on generous salaries, with a newly trained employee earning a basic salary of €55,000, which rises to about €112,000 at the top of the scale.

The employer said the workers also enjoyed a "gold-plated" pension scheme to which they made no contribution, while the company paid a contribution worth 30.5pc of salaries.

There was little prospect of a resolution last night as the controllers' union Impact warned it would not lift the threat of action until the IAA lifted the suspensions. The authority said it had no intention of doing so.

Impact announced the lightning action yesterday after the IAA suspended five workers in Shannon and 10 in Dublin.

The union said the suspensions were imposed after members carried out its instructions not to co-operate with new work practices.

Dispute

Impact said the dispute had been referred to the Labour Court last week and the IAA should not have suspended the staff while this was pending.

However, the IAA made different claims about the row. It said the work practices the controllers refused to do were "normal duties" they had previously done.

It even differed over the number of suspensions, which it said was 12.

The company said talks at the Labour Relations Commission had broken down and it initially suspended workers on full pay. It said it suspended them without pay when they refused to carry out duties they had done before.

This included preparatory work on a new Windows-based software system to improve the existing air traffic control system that will be shared with Sweden and Denmark. It said they refused co-operate until various demands were met and this was the "real agenda".

The IAA said air traffic controllers wanted immediate payment of a 6pc wage rise under the last national pay deal and it had refused to pay more into their pensions.

However, Impact claimed the company was seeking pension contributions from the controllers to mirror the public sector pension levy. The union said this was not appropriate because it had not been imposed at any commercial semi-state companies.

A spokeswoman for the IAA condemned the action and said the aviation industry was "on its knees", facing global losses of $5.6bn (€3.9bn) this year. She apologised to passengers and advised them to contact their airline before setting out.

Aer Lingus has cancelled 64 flights to Britain and Europe, affecting 7,000 passengers. It advised customers to check the status of their flights on aerlingus.com and said they can re-book flights or avail of a refund.

Ryanair said it had cancelled 48 flights and the action would affect 6,000 customers.

It called on the Department of Transport to ensure the airports were kept open even if the "overpaid and underworked" employees took action.

Irish Independent

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