| 3.7°C Dublin

Transport Minister urged to intervene in Aer Lingus row

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey was today urged to intervene in an escalating Aer Lingus row which has resulted in major travel disruption.

Dozens of cabin crew workers have been suspended without pay while flights from Dublin to London Heathrow, Amsterdam, Madrid, Frankfurt and Malaga have been grounded.

Transatlantic flights have also been pulled or delayed since the start of the week as employees refuse to work under a new roster system.

Simon Nugent, chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA), called on Mr Dempsey to "knock heads together" by bringing in a mediator.

"It is estimated that 1,500 passengers will be affected today but I'd say that's on the low side," he said.

Mr Nugent said it was "even more bizarre" that Aer Lingus did not have a contingency plan to keep vital routes operating smoothly during what he branded a low-level falling out.

"A lot of people flying to Madrid would be going on to South America, a lot of people flying to Frankfurt or Amsterdam would be going on to Asia, Africa, you name it," he said.

"These are key starter flights for long-haul trips and a lot of them would be business trips that are being disrupted.

"At a time when our national reputation is at an all-time low, business people are working harder than ever to keep our credibility as a productive and reliable economy intact.

"They need to be able to travel so as to secure and retain contracts and to show that the country is open and efficient.

"It is simply not acceptable that scheduled air services can be disrupted like this with little or no notice."

Trade union Impact said it had already sought intervention from the Labour Court.

"Our members are reporting for work but the company is telling them to go home," said a union spokesman.

"The airline is operating exactly the same schedule this week as it was last week when cabin crew were working in the same way as they are willing to work today."

The union said the new system would mean cabin crew could have to work shifts of up to 11 hours without a meal break and a decline in other working conditions.

But airline bosses said the sole responsibility for the cancellations lies with union members for taking industrial action after 15 months of negotiation, agreement, clarification, conciliation and binding arbitration.

Management wrote to cabin crew last week warning them to adhere to the new rosters.

Impact said 86 of its members have been taken off duties at the airline with 32 of those removed from the payroll or effectively suspended from their jobs.

A spokesman said staff were being individually summoned to meetings with management and then removed from their roles when they refuse to sign up to new working arrangements.

Disruption is expected to get worse in the coming days if the number of workers reprimanded continues to mount.

Impact, which represents 1,100 cabin crew, most of them working for Aer Lingus, said workers were not happy to be taken off the payroll but were determined to stick with the work-to-rule action.

PA Media