Article from the May 2005 edition, the Socialist
paper of the Socialist Party, the CWI in Ireland.

Dublin Airport

FF/PDs step up aviation privatisation plan

by Councillor Clare Daly

WHEN MARTIN Cullen last month announ-ced that the government was to propose a 51% sale of Aer Lingus on the same day as he announced that the second terminal would be built by the Dublin Airport Authority, you didn't need to be a genius to work out that this was an attempt to disguise this government's naked pursuit of privatisation at every turn.

Mary Harney's intervention decrying the decision as anti-competition is a smokescreen. The reality is that there is no fundamental difference between Fianna Fail & the PDs over privatisation, simply a difference in how it would be done.

While the final decision has not been made as we go to press, the reality is that dress it up as they like, it will be a privatisation plan.

Competition is the new buzzword to hide the real agenda. How can a terminal compete? Do passengers say, I'm going to go to Terminal 1 because the restaurants are nicer? Of course not! They use whatever terminal the airline they are travelling with is using. The airlines are the customer. They pay a landing charge for each passenger so that they have the use of check-in facilities, security arrangements, and baggage collection. It has been proven that current landing charges operating in Dublin Airport are amongst the lowest in Europe. The only way to reduce these charges further is to lower the cost base, in other words to attack the wages and conditions of staff. The only competition in this proposal is between workers.

On the surface Cullen's proposal appeared to abandon the idea of a privately run terminal. Not so - while the DAA (formerly Aer Rianta) would build the terminal, it would be on the basis of a new yellow-pack workforce, without the same terms and conditions as current DAA employees. Clearly this new terminal, with its cheaper cost base, would be then used as a battering ram on the pay and conditions of staff in the existing terminal. It is privatisation by stealth.

This has nothing to do with improving facilities. The government, while condemning the crisis at Dublin Airport most recently highlighted by the EU security audit, are the same people who have delayed the development of Pier D to improve terminal facilities in the existing terminal. They have created the crisis to suit their own ends.

Dublin Airport needs enhanced terminal facilities to handle the volume of passengers.

These should be built and run by the DAA and not private investors whose only interest is to recoup massive profits. However the idea that a new terminal would be run by a lesser paid workforce or that it should be built on the site of the former TEAM Aer Lingus, now SR Technics, is not a runner. There are 1,400 workers employed in the hangers whose jobs need to be protected. There is plenty of other land available and no necessity for the hangers to be knocked.

Aer Lingus

Meanwhile the sale of 51% of Aer Lingus is thrown in without a whisper of objection from any quarter. Aer Lingus has seen its workforce slashed to less than 3,500, from over 6,000, yet it is carrying more passengers on more routes, and recently recorded record profits of 110 million. The service has been butchered to a very low standard. Permanent jobs have been replaced by fixed term contracts, with a revolving door workforce with no security or prospects. Many of the functions have been outsourced to non-union, minimum wage private companies.

The excuse for the sell-off is that the company needs investment. There is nothing stopping the government in investing in a company which has always served it well. It simply chooses not to in order to hand it over to their friends waiting in the wings to run it for their own profit.

Instead of tackling the government head on and exposing the real agenda, the unions are calling for a state-holding company to be established, which would see a portion of all semi-states sold to private pension funds. Rather than fighting a battle on privatisation for fear they might lose, they are flying the peace-flag before the battle commences and offering up to 25% of the company for sale.

This is not good enough The Eircom debacle shows what privatisation is all about - massive profits for the big shareholders, a more costly service for the public and a brutal attack on jobs and wages and conditions of the workforce.

A fighting campaign by the unions to expose this situation would gain massive support. Working people are the majority in society. In every workplace wages and conditions are being driven down in the name of competition, yet profits have never been higher. Burying their heads will not make it go away.

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