Source AP ©

Aer Lingus airline avoids strike

The risk of a strike at Ireland's Aer Lingus airline dropped Friday after daylong negotiations with government-appointed mediators.

The Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, which represents cabin crew and ground staff, had threatened to walk off the job for two days next week because Aer Lingus has imposed a pay freeze and introduced tougher contracts for temporary workers.

But leaders of Ireland's largest union said they would gather Aer Lingus shop stewards to vote Saturday on the mediators' plan, which calls for strike action to be postponed for two weeks of intensive negotiations.

Aer Lingus Chief Executive Dermot Mannion said he was confident that the airline's services - which have been repeatedly threatened with strike action in recent weeks - would operate normally next week.

SIPTU national industrial secretary Michael Halpenny said his side was "satisfied that sufficient progress has been made."

The mediators said they would reconvene Aer Lingus and SIPTU union chiefs Nov. 28 to see whether their arguments had been resolved and, if not, to present them with a final compromise plan by Dec. 3.

Mannion has repeatedly confronted union forces this year in the airline, which was privatized in September 2006 and faces tough competition on its home turf from no-frills carrier Ryanair.

He withheld planned pay rises across Aer Lingus' 3,700-member labor force this month because union chiefs have refused to accept a company plan to reform work practices, particularly shift and overtime rules.

Mannion says the plan would trim airline expenses by 20 million EUR(US$29 million) annually. Halpenny counters that the airline is not seeking to boost efficiency, just slash employees' pay and benefits.

Mannion earlier this week sent all SIPTU-represented employees a letter ordering them to confirm, in writing, whether they would report to work normally next week - and, if not, to say why they were striking. A refusal to respond, or an inadequate explanation, had meant they would be suspended from the payroll.

Mannion employed nearly identical tactics last month when confronting the airline's 480 pilots, who were refusing to help recruit and train pilots for a new hub in the British territory of Northern Ireland. At that time, the threat of suspensions without pay brought both sides together for day-and-night negotiations that produced a compromise.