Sunday 17 December 2017

Air travel chaos feared after union pension vote

John Mulligan and Mark Hilliard

AIR TRAVELLERS could face massive disruption after crippling strike action at Aer Lingus and the country's major airports moved a step closer yesterday.

Siptu members at the airline and at Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) have voted in favour of industrial action over a €700m pension deficit.

The move could also affect Cork and Shannon airports although an actual suspension of services is unlikely to be introduced before the autumn.

A source close to the dispute last night described the move as a "precautionary ballot" that would be seen as posturing, but that could be used to pave the way for action at a later stage.

It centres around a shortfall in pensions and follows months of talks between parties over a €700m deficit at the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme.

This serves former and current staff at Aer Lingus, the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and the now defunct Irish arm of SR Technics.

There have been warnings that the existing contributions from employees and employers aren't sufficient to fund future planned benefits for retiring members.

But Aer Lingus and the DAA have insisted they have no legal obligation to shore up the fund with additional cash.

Aer Lingus management have warned that the airline would strongly oppose any attempt to make it stump up more money for the scheme and would attempt to block the move in court.

The airline declined to comment last night while the DAA was unreachable.

Union officials have said that while Aer Lingus and the DAA may argue that they have no legal obligation to put fresh funds into the scheme, the two firms have a moral obligation.

Members of trade union Impact have also been balloted, the results of which will be known shortly.

Unions and the companies have been engaged in talks at the Labour Relations Commission and have been instructed to reach agreement by the end of the year.

The overall vote on potential industrial action will be taken by more than 4,000 workers.

Earlier this month, staff rejected a plan put forward by their employers to tackle the crisis.

Siptu had rejected an initial strategy to freeze the pension scheme and pass its assets to the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) which would then issue bonds to fund drastically reduced pensions.

Instead, the unions agreed that employers should cover workers' pension contributions as well as injecting additional funds into the scheme.

Irish Independent

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