Aer Lingus has reacted to the move by SIPTU workers at the airline to ballot for industrial action in a row over pensions.

In a statement, Aer Lingus said that the union's "actions and pension demands are completely unreasonable and unacceptable".

The pension scheme, which employees at Aer Lingus share with other aviation industry workers, has a deficit of over €700m.

Aer Lingus says it is not legally obliged to help fund the scheme, but has offered to make a once-off payment of €140m to the scheme in order to avoid an industrial dispute.

The airline said SIPTU had threatened to ballot for industrial action "without seeking further dialogue with Aer Lingus." It called for SIPTU to return to talks and said it would take legal advice on the dispute.

SIPTU said yesterday that Aer Lingus flights, as well as Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports will not face industrial disruption before Christmas.

Union official Dermot O'Loughlin said despite being convinced of the "justice" of their cause in pursuing their pension entitlements, staff at Aer Lingus and the airports had no wish to inconvenience the hard-pressed public at the busiest time of the year. 

It is understood that SIPTU President Jack O'Connor has authorised the holding of the ballots in the Dublin Airport Authority, Shannon Airport and Aer Lingus.

The DAA ballot will commence this Saturday, 7 December, with the Aer Lingus ballot starting shortly afterwards. 

Regardless of the outcome of the ballots, no industrial action will commence until after the peak Christmas/New Year period. 

Aer Lingus said it was encouraging all parties seeking to resolve the funding issues of the pension scheme to engage "constructively".