TRAVEL chaos is looming for Christmas as Aer Lingus workers threaten to escalate strike action.
Thousands of passengers face the prospect of missing their family reunions after union officials refused to rule out weeks of industrial action.
Any disruption would also put The Gathering in jeopardy, as tourism organisers are hoping thousands of emigrants will fly in for the celebrations, which start in January.
SIPTU has vowed to forge ahead with plans to hold work stoppages which will see flights grounded in Dublin, Cork and Shannon.
FULL STORY: PAGE 4It emerged today that the industrial action is set to continue right up to January 1 -- which will result in "mayhem" for air passengers over the Christmas and New Year period.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar told the Herald today that he is "disappointed" at the news, adding: "Passengers, tourists and business people will not appreciate the disruption that will be caused."
And Aer Lingus today accused the union of using its passengers as "leverage".
The row between Siptu and the airline centres on the firm's ongoing pension crisis -- with both sides disagreeing over how a €750m shortfall will be filled.
Hopes that the dispute will be resolved are quickly fading and it has now emerged that Siptu is planning a campaign of escalated strike action.
Flight timetables on Monday will now be severely affected with up to 2,000 passengers facing the prospect of being stranded.
A two-hour work stoppage is planned by shop stewards which has forced Aer Lingus to activate radical contingency plans in a bid to avoid disruption.
The strike is planned for between 10am and 12pm and would mostly impact on transatlantic passengers.
Siptu organiser Dermot O'Loughlin said: "Our members are seeking the removal of pre-conditions introduced by Aer Lingus and which we believe to be unrelated to the pension crisis.
"In addition, we need clarification on the roles and responsibilities of all the participants mentioned in the Ictu/Ibec proposals." Aer Lingus management was today scrambling to put contingency plans in place for next Monday. It's understood that measures include:
•Moving flights outside of this two-hour window
•The cancelling of flights to destinations which have multiple trips during the day
•Requesting that passengers change to a later or earlier flight
•Drafting in staff from other areas to deal with check-ins and other passenger related activities.
Siptu is adamant that it wants clarification from ICTU and business group IBEC on aspects of their proposal to mediate in the dispute.
The union particularly wants the removal of pre-conditions set down by the airline, including productivity demands, which Siptu claims are unrelated to the pensions issue.
Last-ditch efforts will now be made over the coming days in a bid to avert the stoppages planned for Monday.
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