23 October 2003 Edition

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Brennan refuses union talks on Aer Rianta


Minister Seamus Brennan

Minister Seamus Brennan

Rolling work stoppages are set to hit the 26 Counties' three largest airports in the coming weeks as transport minister Seamus Brennan refuses to respond to union requests for talks on his break up proposals for Aer Rianta.

Last July, without any worker consultation, Fianna Fáil transport minister Seamus Brennan announced the break up of Aer Rianta, one of Ireland's most successful public sector companies and the world's 30th largest indigenously owned multinational company, into three competing firms.

The Aer Rianta unions were shocked outraged and the TEEU, ATGWU, Impact, SIPTU and Mandate unions co-operated in a united front to stop the break up of the company.

Their primary strategy has been to get the government to agree to appoint an independent chairperson for talks on the government decision. Hopes in this regard were raised when in late July, Brennan said it would take a year to implement the government's decision and reach agreement with the unions.

The unions' concerns centre on a belief that the break up will threaten jobs, wages and working conditions. The government has invested €186 million in Aer Rianta, receiving back €200 million in dividends. This doesn't account for the tax revenue earned by the airports' activities.

Brennan has met the unions for talks but dismissed their concerns and has proceeded with the break up plan. He has begun to appoint new boards of directors for the airports as well as seeking tenders to appoint consultants who would "oversee and advise" on the break up process. Last week, the cabinet agreed to proceed with drawing up the legislation that will implement the break up.

Last week, the Aer Rianta unions wrote to Brennan asking him to respond by 20 October on their request for talks without preconditions and for an independent chair. Brennan has not replied and now the unions, having balloted for industrial action, have put the company on formal notice of possible stoppages beginning on 4 November.

Also under threat from the Aer Rianta unions are airport closures during the much prized EU presidency.

It seems that once again, social partnership merits only lip service in government and rather than plan the most efficient and beneficial development of a national resource, the Dublin government has instead enmeshed itself in confrontation and dispute.

Aer Lingus cabin crew strike

Longer working hours, less breaks and wages freezes -- welcome to the world of privatisation Irish style. This time it's the IMPACT union cabin crew working for Aer Lingus who are today taking industrial action after management refused to negotiate with them on new productivity proposals which in their current form would mean the airline employees working longer hours for less money.

"Aer Lingus is pioneering a new innovation in Irish industrial relations: The pay increase that costs you money," said Chris Carney, IMPACT representative for cabin crew. Carney believes that the new work arrangements with earlier starts and later finishes in the working day would "have a massive impact on cabin crews' working and family lives".

The management refusal to negotiate has saddened the Aer Lingus workers, who believe that they have helped save the company from bankruptcy. Two years ago, Aer Lingus were in dire straits, losing money through seriously bad management strategies and then desperate in the post 9/11 environment to save the state-owned airline from bankruptcy.

The cabin crew have in the past two years agreed to 600 redundancies leading to reduced crew numbers on planes. For the cabin crew this has meant not just a greater workload but longer hours and missed or curtailed breaks.

The workers also agreed that crews operating out of Shannon would accept voluntary redundancy during the winter months, while all the workers gave up annual increments worth €850 annually. They also agreed to defer wage increases owed to them under the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness pay deal.

Now the Aer Lingus management are looking for more worker concessions as they get the company ready for privatisation. Both sides are awaiting a Labour Court judgment on the issue but Aer Lingus management have hired non company planes and crew to carry passengers at a huge financial cost rather than negotiate with the workers.

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