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Bleak outlook for Aer Lingus staff at Shannon

THE future looks uncertain for Aer Lingus staff at Shannon this week, particularly those employed as cabin crew.
In a letter to Clare Minister for State Tony Killeen this week, Aer Lingus CEO Christoph Mueller said the airline intends to complete a review of its long and short-haul network in the coming weeks, stating Aer Lingus must serve its market “in the most efficient manner”.
Meanwhile, trade union Impact, which represents cabin crew, last week voted against cost-saving proposals by a margin of almost two to one. Aer Lingus subsequently announced it would be seeking 230 redundancies from its 1,200 cabin crew workers, with just over 120 based at Shannon. Those that remain will be subject to new terms and conditions. Aer Lingus also plans to make a further 440 workers redundant.
In his letter to Deputy Killeen, Mr Mueller stated the airline is conducting a review of operations from Shannon and Dublin, which is almost complete. While he did say that Shannon is important to Aer Lingus, he also stated that the airline is losing money there.
“Aer Lingus remains committed to the Shannon Region as an important part of the Aer Lingus network. Since my appointment, I have visited the area several times and in addition to meeting our staff, I have met with a wide variety of business, tourism and airport interests. There has been much talk about Aer Lingus’ approach to Shannon. I deal in facts only,” Mr Mueller claimed.
“The Shannon market is an extremely seasonal one and in the case of the New York route, Aer Lingus has lost money every winter for the last 10 years and has made a profit over a full year in only two out of the last 10 years.
“The performance on Boston has been marginally better. Despite what you may believe to be the case, profitability from Dublin is equally challenging in the current environment. As we set out at a recent investor day, Aer Lingus is a demand-led business.”
He added that the company would serve the markets where passenger demand exists.
“In this regard, we are currently carrying out a comprehensive review of our long-haul and short-haul network in the context of our short and medium-term schedule planning. This review is expected to be completed within the next six weeks. While I am also very cognisant of the importance of connectivity to the region, Aer Lingus must serve the market in the most efficient manner.
“We will continue to work closely with the Shannon Airport Authority and the various tourism interests so that we can continue to serve Shannon and the wider region to the benefit of all stakeholders.”
Minister Killeen said he had contacted Mr Mueller on behalf of numerous business and political interests in the Mid-West region, as he is worried about the impact of a loss of services from Shannon.
“I am deeply concerned that any proposed reduction of existing services will impact negatively on cabin crew and other staff at Aer Lingus’ Shannon base. Notwithstanding the difficulties for the airline in the current downturn, I did point out to Mr Mueller that options, which could be taken on the basis of passenger numbers and income on Shannon services appear to have been avoided to prop up Dublin operations.”
He said he told Mr Mueller there has long been an anti-Shannon agenda operating in Aer Lingus. “I informed the CEO that a former Aer Lingus employee has confirmed that management at the airline was actively dictating policy to staff over the last two decades to downgrade Shannon. I told him that this appeared to be repeated, designed to wrongfoot him as CEO. I respectfully suggested that he seek independent advice before reaching final decisions.”
Following the rejection of cost-cutting proposals by Impact, Aer Lingus released a statement on Wednesday outlining steps it now intends to take.
According to the statement, only statutory redundancy will be paid.
“Aer Lingus announces that it has now disclosed to cabin crew representatives’ measures to achieve the cost savings originally contemplated under the cost reduction programme announced in October 2009.”
The measures include targeted compulsory redundancies at statutory minimum levels, including the delayering of the cabin crew organisation; new working conditions to achieve increased productivity; transition to a new pay scale, including reduced salaries; a reduction in variable pay and the implementation of new Aer Lingus principles of employment.
“Assuming the full implementation of all of the above measures, it is expected there will be approximately 230 less cabin crew in the organisation and all remaining cabin crew will be on new contracts of employment,” the statement concluded.
Niall Shanahan of Impact said the union were still receiving details of cost-cutting proposals from Aer Lingus, adding the union hopes to hold a meeting with Shannon staff before Friday evening.
Impact said it would be looking for the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to become involved. “The details that have emerged in relation to the compulsory redundancy programme announced by Aer Lingus on Tuesday indicate that the measures proposed are brutal, targeted and unfair. The union is requesting that the LRC reconvene the parties in order to find a mutually acceptable solution. Despite statements by the CEO of the airline, the measures that have been announced look very much like a form of retribution against cabin crew for voting against the proposals,” he claimed.
It was claimed that cabin crew have already been very co-operative. “One of the difficulties with the proposals was that they were tabled barely a year after cabin crew had agreed to substantial cost saving measures, then valued by Aer Lingus at €15 million. This followed €8m worth of savings agreed in 2007, as well as a succession of cost-saving deals dating back to September 2001, all of which impacted negatively on earnings and working conditions.”

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