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SIPTU proposes abolition of airports’ boards

WORKER representation on the board of the Shannon Airport Authority is to be more than halved on the orders of the Minister for Transport, at a time when Shannon is under pressure to bear new cutbacks on top of the 183 jobs shed since 2007.

In response to the direction from Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to reduce the number of ministerial appointees, as well as worker-elected members of the airport board, the SIPTU negotiators have tabled a proposal for the boards at Shannon and Cork to be abolished.

The SIPTU union strenuously resisted the 2004 break-up of the old Aer Rianta airports authority and is now taking the view that because the independence promised for Shannon and Cork has been deferred until at least 2011, the retention of the two boards is superfluous at a time when Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) is claiming that the cost of the boards is running to €2 million a year.

The Department of Transport confirmed this week that Minister Dempsey has conveyed to the chairmen of the three State airports and to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that the head count on the boards is being reduced.

In explanation, it stated that the reductions follow on from last December’s decision to defer the separation of the three airports. In his commentary on that decision, Minister Dempsey stated that discussions were in train with the chairmen of the airports to put in place “appropriate governance arrangements” that would allow Shannon and Cork “to be operated under a commercial mandate”.

Justification set out by management and the DAA for the protracted and painful rationalisation scheme at Shannon, which virtually halved the airport workforce, was based on bringing overheads down to levels that would provide a stable base on which the airport could be freed to operate as an independent entity.

While separation has been deferred until at least 2011, the fortunes of the airport dipped in 2008 when traffic growth was reversed and the pattern has deteriorated this year, with Shannon facing into a particularly bleak last quarter. Neither is the outlook promising with projections submitted to the aviation regulator by Dublin Airport Authority, suggesting that air traffic into the country will be static for at least the next three years.

In further justification of the reduction in boardroom representation, the Transport Department cited the economies being called for from public authorities to reduce expenditure.

However, trade unions engaged in the restructuring talks have pointed out that savings on directors’ fees amount to €10,800 per director.

“Even with numbers reduced by five, that would amount to a paltry saving of €54,000 a year for Shannon and the administrative and other costs for the authority would remain the same,” union officers are contending. “In the circumstances and in view of the cost claims put forward by the DAA, any genuine moves to reduce board costs should look at the option of disbanding the Shannon and Cork boards,” the unions have added.

The board of the Shannon Airport Authority is due to complete its term of office in the next two weeks and new ministerial appointments are due to be announced for a new authority to come into operation on September 16, according to the Department of Transport.

Trade unions have yet to sort out their response to the ministerial order, as unions separately balloted to elect their representatives to the Shannon board when it came into being in 2004. Under the latest directive, Shannon will be the biggest loser in terms of worker representation. When the make-up of the Shannon board was being negotiated, SIPTU secured an extra place at the boardroom table for a Dublin nominee. In addition to the four worker directors – three from SIPTU and one from the MANDATE middle management union – representation at Shannon has included Paul Dagger from the Dublin workforce, in acknowledgement of the presence of a Shannon director on the board of Aer Rianta from the introduction of worker director representation.

The worker representation on the Shannon authority is being reduced to two and unions have yet to sort out how that representation will be arranged. The present preoccupation for the unions is fixed on the latest round of re-structuring discussions, which this week is heading towards the 40th day of meetings since February.

While the restructuring talks are bogged down with no common ground so far established, Dublin Airport Authority is pressing for an overall reduction of 350 jobs, with 300 at Dublin.

“What is being floated for Shannon is yet another reduction of 40 to 50 jobs, but the union negotiators are strenuously pointing out that in the wake of the rationalisation programme, up to 50 contract workers have already had to be taken on. Union representatives can see no prospect of achieving the workforce reductions wanted by management unless job functions are spread over multiple roles or that services are outsourced,” a union source declared.

The directors of the inaugural Shannon Airport Authority, whose term of office terminates this September are chairman, Pat Shanahan; non-executive directors, Patrick Blaney, Tadhg Kearney, Rose Hynes, Michael B Lynch, Padraic Burke, Reg Freake and Olivia Loughnane. Worker directors elected from Shannon include Joe Buckley (IMPACT); John McCarthy, Linda Keane and Audrey Costelloe (SIPTU) and Paul Dagger as nominee of SIPTU, Dublin Civil Aviation Branch.

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