THE Labour Relations Commission has invited both Aer Lingus and the IMPACT Trade Union to talks in Dublin on Friday.
It follows an overwhelming vote for industrial action by IMPACT members, who work as cabin crew.
The decision to close the cabin crew base at Shannon is just one of the issues that form the background to the dispute as IMPACT spokesman Niall Shanahan explained; “By the time we were putting a ballot paper together it had become a live issue, but up until that it had been issues about rosters, breaches of previous agreements made with management and what had been identified as a sort of withdrawal by management from industrial relations processes over the previous couple of years.
“The mechanisms we had to solve problems in the past, it seemed the company were unwilling or unable to engage with them. This led to a back up of an awful lot of problems, deep feelings of resentment among cabin crew and a desire to ballot for industrial action as a means to correct some of these issues.”
Over 700 ballots were issued and 91% of those who voted were in favour of industrial action, up to and including strike action.
While Mr Shanahan said that there were other issues, the closure of the Shannon base is what is most central from the union’s point of view. “From the union’s perspective the loss of jobs is always the single most serious issue that can surface. There are 87 jobs in Shannon and I would take the view that if those jobs go, they are gone for good.
The dispute at Shannon that led to Aer Lingus’ decision to close the base centred on the crewing of transatlantic flights, but Mr Shanahan said there actually wasn’t a huge gap between the parties. “It’s a priority for us to protect the jobs that are at Shannon. The difference between us on the crewing of the transatlantic service is that the company want four (cabin crew) but we are arguing that industry standard suggests that five or six crew are more appropriate. There’s not much difference between the two parties when you break it down like that. I don’t accept the view that anything more than four would eat into the company’s profitability on this transatlantic service. If you were to reach an agreement that five were acceptable that would mean that you would have to create more jobs at Shannon in the medium and long term. Not alone is it protecting jobs at Shannon, it’s creating the potential for more jobs.”
Clare TD Pat Breen said he was glad that talks are to begin. “Aer Lingus has a dedicated and loyal staff at Shannon Airport and their experience would prove invaluable for the airline on these routes. That’s why it is imperative that the airline reaches an agreement with its staff to resolve the current impasse which is in the best interests of its staff, the airline and the wider region.
“At the end of the day the only way a dispute can be resolved is if both parties sit down around the table. I am pleased now that Aer Lingus have agreed to return to the table and I would urge both parties to use this time to find a mutually acceptable agreement which will remove the threat over the future of the airline’s crew base at Shannon Airport and the restoration of these services.”