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Aer Lingus row must be solved

It is the little things which cause trouble. It seems strange that arguments over meal breaks and notice of duty changes could threaten the future of Aer Lingus, but that appears to be the situation in the current dispute.

More flights were cancelled yesterday as the airline's attempts to maintain schedules with hired planes and staff faltered. The cost of this must be exorbitant, and some of the lost business may not return to the airline.

The fine detail of work arrangements often are of more importance to workers than the big issue of total pay and hours. The Aer Lingus unions have agreed to increase flying hours to 850 a year, which is close to Ryanair's 900. The difficulty is how to achieve it.

As this newspaper has said before, one can sympathise with Aer Lingus workers who found their secure, comfortable industry transformed into one of the most ruthless and competitive of all. But that is what happened. The choice is between being part of that, or not being in the business at all.

Some of the union claims -- such as the family unfriendly short notice of changes -- look more reasonable than others, such as the opposition to double shifts. The argument over meal breaks seems very strange, and makes the airline look inflexible.

Yet anyone who knows industrial relations understands that such demands are often intended to make the ultimate objective -- in this case 850 flying hours -- impossible to achieve.

The Labour Court, where this will probably end up again, must insist that working practices fit that objective. Otherwise, it may not just be passengers, but employees, who one day find there are no flights.