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Originally published Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 10:42 AM

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150 Irish flights to be hit by air-traffic walkout

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.

Associated Press Writer

DUBLIN —

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.

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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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On the Net:

Ryanair cancelations, http://tinyurl.com/ybwwhej

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