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Airport workers agree to put strike on hold

AIR traffic controllers have lifted the threat of more disruptive strikes following a breakthrough in a row that shut down the main airports.

They will attend talks with their employer at the Labour Court this morning in a bid to end a dispute that grounded up to 150 flights for four hours on Wednesday.

A decision to join the negotiations to achieve industrial peace was taken at a meeting of their union in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, that was originally called to escalate strike action.

Following intense political pressure to get the warring parties around a table, mediators broke the impasse in the row.

The dispute erupted when workers refused to operate a new computer programme and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) retaliated by suspending 14 of them without pay.

However, Impact's assistant general secretary Michael Landers has not ruled out future work stoppages if more controllers are suspended.

"We've taken the initiative to defer any further stoppages," he said. "If the IAA were to do anything further along those lines, that might generate a further action from us."

Pressure mounted on the parties to move toward an agreement after Transport Minister Noel Dempsey called the action "disproportionate". He revealed he was considering making the controllers subject to a no-strike clause that would stop them taking industrial action.

But he said that calls for him to intervene in this strike were "nonsense and a diversion".

The breakthrough came after the employer body IBEC and union umbrella organisation The Irish Congress of Trade Unions urged the parties to attend talks.

But relations between the controllers and the IAA deteriorated later yesterday after it accused Dublin Airport controllers of carrying out a work-to-rule.


Aer Arann, Ryanair and Cityjet also claimed the workers had delayed some flights by a couple of minutes, which was hotly contested by Impact.

Ryanair also claimed there were rumours that the controllers would cause further disruption at the weekend by refusing to cover sick leave.

"Minister for Transport Noel 'Do Little' Dempsey should stop ducking confrontation with these public sector workers and their trade union," CEO Michael O'Leary said.

"Now when the air traffic controllers engage in industrial blackmail by shutting Ireland's main airports, and delaying and disrupting more flights yesterday, he continues to do nothing but waffle."

Hope of a resolution of the dispute dawned as fears grew about the potential effect on the already ailing economy.

Employers claimed some potential investors that tried to travel to meetings during the afternoon strike at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports were delayed.

But the contentious issues at the heart of the dispute still have to be resolved. Impact has not succeeded in getting the 14 workers who have been suspended back on the payroll.

And the company has not got agreement from the workers to operate the new computer programme.

The IAA confirmed it accepted an invitation from the chairman of the Labour Court to attend preliminary exploratory talks on all matters in the dispute.

"The authority welcomes the court's invitation to meet with both parties for talks on all relevant issues."

Impact and its air traffic controller branch committee also welcomed the invitation.

"In light of the invitation to attend the Labour Court, the branch committee has deferred any consideration of further industrial action," it said.

"It provides an opportunity to address all of the matters in dispute between both parties, including the issue of suspended staff, which IMPACT believes should be restored to the payroll as soon as possible."

Irish Independent