Article from the Sept 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Stop the pillage of Aer Lingus

AER LINGUS Chief Exe-cutive Willie Walsh announces a three-year plan involving the axing of 1,325 jobs from the national airline just weeks after he and his management team stated their wish to buy the company. He should have been immediately removed from his position because of a clear conflict of interest - the fact that he wasn't means he was acting with the knowledge and support of the government.

By Councillor Clare Daly and Susan Henry

While Walsh goes on TV to praise the redundancy package, he remains quiet about the fact that should he succeed in stripping the company bare, and selling it off, his gang of three stand to personally pocket 250 times the average redundancy pay-out.

The scenario unfolding at Aer Lingus represents one of the most blatant attempts to defraud the taxpayer and the workforce, and rob us of an important state asset, in order to line the pockets of a few vultures waiting in the wings. This pillage must be stopped.

Aer Lingus is a viable, successful company. Over the decades it provided secure, pensionable, relatively quality employment to thousands of people, an excellent quality service and safety record and plays an important role in international cargo handling, and a key role in regional development. In its entire history it received 240 million in state subsidies. That amount was repaid many times over, through dividends to the exchequer and taxation from the workforce. In the 1990s alone Aer Lingus workers paid more income tax every year than all the farmers in the country.

Yet the past decade has witnessed the continual erosion of the numbers employed in the company and the quality and range of service provided. Over 3,000 jobs were lost in the "Survival Plan", following September 11th. Many functions that were carried out either ceased or were handed over to contractors. What has been taking place has been the gradual part-privatisation of many of the functions, in preparation for the total privatisation of the airline.

A lot of the emphasis from the media and indeed some of the unions has been to concentrate on the nature of the redundancy package, and that there should be no compulsory redundancies. The real issue is why should any jobs be allowed to be sold off? The functions still need to be carried out. This is all about contracting, and privatising key functions that we currently do, and giving that work to other companies with lower pay, worse conditions and no job security. It is part of a process taking place throughout the semi-state sector. If management succeed, then the government will have a slimmed down operation that they can sell off, and decent secure jobs will be lost for good.

Workers in Aer Lingus need to stand firm against this onslaught. Walsh is hoping that enough people will jump ship so that he gets his numbers and can then off-load key departments through outsourcing. If he doesn't get the "volunteers" then he has a problem. There is no way he can force through compulsory redundancies in a viable company. A determined response from the workforce would draw the government into the quagmire. Against the background of their disastrous local election results, they certainly won't want any unnecessary hassle.

The unions need to up the ante. 96% of SIPTU members have voted for industrial action and 93% have committed to reject any redundancy offer. IMPACT should immediately ballot their members on industrial action. The unions must prepare the ground for a battle to save our jobs and stop Aer Lingus being turned into a privately owned Ryanair mark II.

If Aer Lingus workers reject management's redundancy offer and instead opt to keep their jobs in a profitable and viable company it will scupper Wille Walsh's plans. The onus will then be on the Aer Lingus management and the government to try and force us out.

Margaret (7 years service)
"We've been through the survival plan, pay freezes and so on. This is the thanks we get for putting the company into major profitability. I'm not going anywhere, I'm an Aer Lingus worker."

Liam (11 years service)
"It's very unfair, Aer Lingus workers gave everything and now we're being stabbed in the back. The government should step in and do something, they're making fools of us."

Kevin (10 years service)
"Willie is making our jobs extinct, section by section, moving us along, wherever! Once this section is gone, he's happy, he'll move on to the next with his axe."

Joe (11 years service)
"We're being offered money, but no information on what's going on. How can you make such a life changing decision in two weeks?"

Pat (15 years service)
"There's a huge conflict of interest with the management team who want to buy the airline, sacking 1300 people at the same time. The government know this and have done nothing - I thought we'd crossed the bridge of corruption!"

Seamus (16 years service)
"I was very annoyed to hear Willie Walsh on the news telling the nation he was giving the best redundancy deal in the history of the semi-state, at nine weeks per year. He didn't say it was capped at 15 years, on my service that's well short of nine weeks a year."

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