Article from the Nov 2004 edition, the first, of the Socialist
Aer Lingus - stalemate continues
WITH THE passing of the deadline for applications for voluntary redundancy in mid October, the situation in Aer Lingus has entered a new phase. The company sought 1325 redundancies, based on a plan for eliminating a number of departments and outsourcing functions in others.
by Councillor Clare Daly
In essence, management planned to panic as many people as possible to leave in order to streamline the company for privatisation. With talks dragging on for nearly two months, and very little information coming back about what was happening, over 1,600 workers submitted redundancy applications.
On the surface it would appear that management have got their way. But making an application does not commit the applicant to leaving the company. It is unclear how many of the 1,600 workers are serious about leaving, as only about 260 staff have left to date.
With applications closed a certain pressure and uncertainty has been removed. But there is no clarity on how sections of the company will continue to operate should more staff take redundancy. The whole so-called restructuring process in Aer Lingus has become very fragmented, with discussions being held in local sections and little information being given to the workforce about the overall situation.
Aer Lingus management have abandoned a plan to close the catering department and to outsource its work by 1 November. Now they are claiming they will sell off the catering secton in March 2005. This climb down was forced on management because very few catering workers signed up for redundancy and local union reps have stood firm against outsourcing. Now temporary catering staff contracts have been extended and new temporary staff are being recruited.
A "pilot" programme was tried out in aircraft cleaning, which involved using reduced staff numbers and massive changes in work practices to see if this would be an alternative to outsourcing. The trial was deemed to be 75% successful, but management have rejected it in favour of complete outsourcing.
These examples are illustrative of the phoney war that is taking place in Aer Lingus. On the one hand the SIPTU leadership, which has an official policy against outsourcing has to be seen to make a stand on this issue. And on the other, Aer Lingus management are trying to push as hard as they can to get the maximum amount of changes without causing a major row with the workforce. However, it has yet to be seen what the SIPTU leadership will do if management calls its bluff on outsourcing.
Ultimately this is a war against the privatisation of the company and to save relatively well paid jobs and a decent airline service.
Either management and the government backs off on privatisation and outsourcing or they will have to be taken on. After the hammering the government got in the local elections now is an opportune time for an offensive by the unions in Aer Lingus to stop privatisation once and for all.