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Shannon to lose union officials?


FACING into New Year wage cuts of up to 8.5% for top earners, Shannon Airport workers have been hit with the bombshell of a possible downgrading of trade union back-up.
Just as protracted negotiations, ongoing since February, were coming to a close, workers holding union office were advised last week of national executive-approved proposals to close the Shannon SIPTU offices and transfer two full-time officials to other regional centres.
SIPTU’s head of communications, Frank Connolly told The Clare Champion however, that while a restructuring of the organisation and its premises had been agreed at a conference in October, discussions were ongoing with those who would be involved. He stressed the union’s national executive had taken no decision on the restructuring proposals and that they hadn’t even met to discuss it.
Local union sources claimed that members were enraged with warnings of defections during a “heated” meeting in the past week.
Under the revived restructuring plan drawn up by Liberty Hall headquarters, official Tony Carroll of the Civil Aviation Branch is to be relocated to the Cork-Kerry region and the full-time official responsible for Shannon Free Zone membership is to be transferred to the Limerick city regional headquarters, according to Clare SIPTU figures.
There is also a shadow of uncertainty over SIPTU presence in Ennis, with the revised regional set-up proposing that the Clare branch official would be relocated to the Galway regional centre.
A former Shannon Airport Branch SIPTU officer noted that the union made similar moves a few years ago and the case for what would certainly be seen by members as a downgrading, has been strengthened by the substantial reduction in membership resulting from the rationalisation programme.
The vast majority of those who took the voluntary severance package were union members. Those still working at the airport will be pointing their fingers at the consequences of the 2004 Aer Rianta break up, which meant that any serious negotiations over the past five years have taken place in Dublin with the Dublin Airport Authority rather than the Shannon Airport Authority. Dublin control will remain until 2011 at the earliest.
Angry SIPTU members are ready to fight a rearguard resistance action to keep officials “on the ground” at Shannon rather than serving the Shannon complex at arm’s length. The former union officer said, “The union will  be making the case that the switch from manufacturing to international services at Shannon Free Zone has also depleted union membership and severely reduced the prospect of recruiting new membership on a scale that made Shannon a union stronghold up to 20 years ago.”
In the meantime, staff holding onto jobs with the Shannon Airport Authority are going to have less take-home pay in 2010. Under the cost-cutting programme that is nearing the signing off stage of the negotiating process, an across-the-board cut of 5% has been agreed, which is to be scaled over the workforce with the lowest paid facing least pain and top earners losing another 8.5% off salaries.
Staff on the lowest salary grades will be taking a pay cut of 2.5%, while those earning more than €30,000 a year will be conceding bigger proportions of their earnings. Those in the €60,000-€70,000 bracket will be cut by 7% and 8.5% will be shaved off those on salaries ranging from €70,000 to €90,000.
The only consolation for Shannon union negotiators is that, having taken the pain of the rationalisation programme which all but halved the Shannon Airport Authority workforce, Shannon will escape with a minimal loss of eight posts in the overall cost-cutting plan. “These will be voluntary redundancies,” union sources stated.
In its historic form as the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, what is now SIPTU, has been at Shannon since the landmark strike of 1951 when the ITGWU recruited frontline staff in the restaurants and lounges who walked out. Because the dispute split the workforce of around 1,000 at the then Sales and Catering Service, the resolution of the dispute brought not only recognition of the union but an agreement, by management directive, that all staff would be members of the union. Resulting from that, Shannon Airport would claim to be the first employer that deducted union subscriptions directly from staff wages.

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