AER LINGUS has warned it will freeze productivity payments to staff while a strike that could cripple Irish airports is being threatened for St Patrick's weekend.
In a move that has upped the ante in the ongoing pensions dispute, the management has warned that the payments, which average €1,200 to €1,400 per employee, will be withheld by the company until the row is resolved.
Siptu, which this week served Aer Lingus with strike notice for the eve of the St Patrick's weekend, has reacted angrily to the move.
Hundreds of thousands of passengers face the prospect of travel chaos if the four-hour strike, scheduled for March 14, goes ahead. But tensions between the union and the company escalated last night after it emerged that staff now face the prospect of having their productivity payments frozen.
The payments, totalling €6.25m this year, were agreed under a previous accord and were due to be paid out in lump sums over the coming weeks.
The Herald understands that the threat was made by Aer Lingus CEO Christophe Mueller during a meeting with staff.
Siptu last night branded the threat "outrageous" and said it only served to undermine the ongoing negotiations about the Aer Lingus pension fund.
"This is nothing short of scandalous and it will cause deep alarm among staff. This payment is made to all staff, from pilots to those on lower pay, and it really does make a difference," Siptu organiser Dermot O'Loughlin told the Herald.
Flights carrying thousands of Irish rugby fans to Paris for the crunch Six Nation's decider against France – Brian O'Driscoll's final international game – are scheduled to depart during the stoppages.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said he believed Siptu has "made the wrong call" by proposing strike action.