Unions defiant as Aer Lingus faces work stoppage

Aer Lingus staff will stick to their guns and go ahead with a two-hour strike next week following further rows over pensions.

The SIPTU union claimed that Aer Lingus is demanding that any contribution to plug the deficit in its pension scheme be offset by staff productivity.

As the latest fight in the ongoing saga unfolded following crunch talks today, Aer Lingus accused union members of using customers as leverage.

"The threat of industrial action has not been withdrawn," said Siptu spokesman Frank Connolly, however.

The dispute centres on the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme, a pension pot for Aer Lingus and Dublin Airport Authority staff that is in deficit by almost €750m.

Mr Connolly said the union wanted further clarification from Aer Lingus on suggestions that negotiations over the pension deficit would involve so-called "productivity stabilisation measures".

"They want to tie any commitments to restore the damage to the pension fund caused by the airline to productivity," Mr Connolly added.

"What we are saying is pension has nothing to do with terms and conditions of service."

However, a spokesman for Aer Lingus insisted the organisation's position for cost stabilisation measures involving workers had been consistent and remains unchanged.

"Aer Lingus find it most regrettable that SIPTU has taken this decision to use Aer Lingus customers as leverage in a dispute, for which a way forward is clearly available," he added.

Unless an agreement is reached between Aer Lingus and Siptu, along with four other trade unions - Impact, Unite, TEEU and Mandate - staff will stop work between 10am and noon on Monday November 19.

Cabin crew and ground, administration and clerical staff will take part in the strike.

SIPTU representatives met on Saturday to discuss a five-point plan put forward by employers' body IBEC and ICTU, aimed at finding a solution to the dispute.

IBEC and ICTU called on both parties to engage in fresh talks assisted by the Labour Relations Commission, and appealed to the unions to withdraw strike action.

Meanwhile, in a statement, former state carrier Aer Lingus said its customers were its sole concern.

It insisted it would work to ensure travel disruptions were kept to a minimum if and when the strike goes ahead.

"We are in the process of activating our disruptions handling plan and will do everything possible on Monday November 19 to minimise disruption to our customers' travel plans," said a spokesman.

"We will communicate proactively with customers over the coming days to inform them of any anticipated schedule changes."

Later, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he was disappointed the strike threat had not been lifted.

“I’m disappointed that SIPTU shop stewards at Aer Lingus have not withdrawn their notice of industrial action, even though their union welcomed the joint initiative put forward by Congress and IBEC last Friday,” he said.

“This joint initiative aims to resolve the long-standing pension issue at Aer Lingus in a practical manner, in everyone’s interest.

“Passengers, tourists and business people will not appreciate the unnecessary disruption that will be caused.”

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