150 Irish Flights to be Hit by Air-Traffic Walkout

By: Shawn Pogatchnik - AP Writer
By: Shawn Pogatchnik - AP Writer

DUBLIN (AP) - Air traffic controllers plan to ground flights at Ireland's three major airports for at least four hours Wednesday to push for pay raises and keep their free pension plans.

The Irish Aviation Authority suspended at least 15 of Ireland's
300 controllers without pay Tuesday because they and their union,
Impact, were already refusing to operate recently upgraded
air-traffic systems.

Officials at the Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports all braced
for major disruptions Wednesday as controllers planned to walk off
the job from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. (1400-1800GMT, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST).

The aviation authority said about 150 flights in and out of the
three airports would be canceled or suffer heavy delays.

Budget carrier Ryanair said it had already canceled 48 flights
from Ireland, Britain, France, Germany, Italy Norway, the
Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

The airline denounced the controllers as "overpaid and
underworked," and urged its estimated 6,000 inconvenienced
passengers to make complaints by telephone and e-mail to the Impact
union headquarters.

Liam Kavanagh, the aviation authority's director of human
resources, said a promised 6 percent pay raise for the controllers
had been "negotiated in very different economic times in 2007"
and could not be paid now that Ireland had fallen into recession.

Kavanagh accused the controllers of being greedy and selfish at
a time of exceptional economic crisis in Ireland and a double-digit
percent decline in passengers traveling through Irish airports.

He said controllers are "already phenomenally well-paid
compared to doctors, teachers, nurses and police officers." It
made no sense to stick to a 2007 deal when "the whole world has
been turned on its head since that agreement, the industry is in
trouble, and volumes of work are decreasing."

But a senior union official at Impact, Michael Landers, said
airport management must honor the 2 1/2-year-old pay deal because
the Irish Aviation Authority is still recording profits. He said
controllers suffer exceptional job-related stress and the new
systems - designed to boost efficiency and allow Irish airports to
handle greater traffic levels - would increase that burden.

Landers also rejected management's demand that controllers begin
making contributions to their guaranteed-benefits pension plans.

Throughout Ireland's Celtic Tiger boom of 1994-2007, wages rose
steadily and strikes were kept to a minimum thanks to national wage
deals brokered by the government.

But the 2007 agreement has unraveled amid soaring government
debts, a property market collapse, 1930s-style deflation and a
doubling of unemployment to 12.5 percent. Most Irish employers have
already backed off the 2007 deal, and unions are planning a wide
range of strikes and protests.

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