SIPTU's Pensions Committee has said it will not lift the planned industrial action planned at Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority, but will engage with the expert group set up to investigate the pensions dispute.

Workers are due to hold a four-hour stoppage at Dublin, Cork and Shannon on Friday 14 March, as the St Patrick's weekend begins.

The committee met representatives from DAA, followed by a meeting with Aer Lingus officials this afternoon.

Speaking afterwards, SIPTU aviation sector organiser Dermot O'Loughlin said while it welcomed the initiative, it will not be lifting the planned industrial action.

He said it would definitely go into talks with the expert panel with an open mind, but he said it had spent three-and-a-half years at this.

The decision to continue with industrial action was unanimous, he said, and described the pension scheme as "a worthless pension".

He also said it had not yet been contacted by anyone from the expert panel.

Mr O'Loughlin said the committee would meet again this Friday to discuss any further dates for industrial action that might take place.

The group is very annoyed at comments coming from the companies, he said, adding that any further industrial action would probably be escalated.

The DAA has said it is "astonished and taken aback" by SIPTU's decision to proceed with the action.

The planned action follows the breakdown of talks aimed at resolving the long-running dispute over cuts in pension benefits at Aer Lingus and the DAA.

The union said it was serving notice because of the companies' refusal to engage in meaningful talks or to present reasonable or fair proposals to address the pensions problem.

Aer Lingus said it is rebooking customers who will be affected if the action goes ahead.

Aer Lingus has said it is putting plans in place to try to minimise the effects of the strike on customers.

The company says this will include re-scheduling some flights to avoid the four-hour strike period. 

The airline said it plans to start communicating directly with customers tomorrow, about the options available to them.

The dispute centres on the restructuring of the joint Aer Lingus/Dublin Airport Authority pension scheme, which has a deficit of around €780m.

Employees fear that their benefits will be significantly reduced as a result.

Last month, Aer Lingus ruled out increasing its offer of a €110m lump sum to offset cuts in pension benefits due to the deficit.

A further €30m has been earmarked to shore up benefits for former employees who have not yet retired.

The trustees of the pension have outlined their proposals for addressing the deficit, which include cuts of 20% in benefits for those who have not yet retired, as well as reductions for retirees in line with recent legislation.

Aer Lingus said it is prepared to engage with the expert panel, but will only do so on a voluntary and non-binding basis aimed at facilitating full and speedy implementation of a previous Labour Court recommendation on the issue. 

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has urged SIPTU to call off the threatened strike action to allow the panel to complete its work.

Speaking this morning, he said if SIPTU was being genuine and looking after interests of members he expected them to call off the strike.

The DAA has also welcomed the announcement of intervention and called on SIPTU to withdraw its notice of industrial action and to engage fully in the process.