Strike threat over Aer Lingus job cuts

Up to 1,500 jobs will be cut and outsourced at Aer Lingus as it implements a €74m cost-saving programme, it was revealed tonight.

The move by the former state carrier was condemned by trade unions who threatened strike action.

The Impact trade union described the proposal – which aims aim to slash €50m from the airline’s payroll – as draconian and severe.

Siptu – the largest trade union involved – said it will ballot its members this week for industrial action.

National industrial secretary Gerry McCormack said: “As we have made clear from the start, we are totally opposed to outsourcing.

“That message does not seem to have gotten through to the management team and therefore we are in the place we are in.”

Aer Lingus said all ground operations, including check-in and baggage handling, cargo and catering services at Dublin Airport will be outsourced.

Ground operations in Cork and Shannon, and cargo services in Shannon, will also be outsourced while the carrier will retain a hanger and some maintenance services at the mid-west airport.

The airline’s cabin crew base in Heathrow and Shannon will close.

Services from New York, Boston and San Francisco will be reduced and staffed with US-based cabin crew.

But the airline’s new Belfast hub is safe and will not be affected under the scheme.

It is not yet clear how many staff will be affected at each base.

Elsewhere management want to eliminate €14m from its bill for advertising, distribution, airport costs and professional fees and a further €10m will be deducted from the carrier’s long haul services.

Aer Lingus, which only announced last month that it was reviewing operating costs after reporting losses of €22m for the first half of the year, aims to implement the new programme by December 1.

Airline boss Dermot Mannion said a radical cost cutting plan had been presented to staff representatives which, in the view of the board and the management of the airline, was necessary in the current circumstances in order to ensure its continued viability.

“The strategy today is to safeguard our long haul services from Dublin and Shannon, in order to do that we are going to have to implement a very aggressive and radical cost cutting plan,” he added.

Workers will be offered a voluntary severance or early retirement package, and those who do not take redundancy may transfer to a new service provider.

Employees who remain at the carrier will be hit with a pay freeze until the end of 2009 and new contracts will be issued based on performance-related pay.

Mr McCormack said the move by Air Lingus was Irish Ferries Mark II – when ferry staff were made redundant in 2005 and replaced with a cheaper workforce.

“It represents a fire sale of good quality jobs by a management that can see no further than the next quarter’s profit and loss sheet,” said Mr McCormack.

“Nobody in the company will emerge unscathed from this exercise. Even those who keep their jobs will have to sign up to new contracts, ”a merit and performance based culture“ and a pay freeze until the end of 2009.

“The company has also told us that it will continue to seek further savings so that surviving staff face the prospect of further reductions in pay and conditions, not to mention redundancy.

“We are perfectly willing to discuss savings with the company and will be entering the process to be chaired by Kevin Foley of the Labour Relations Commission.”

Tommy Broughan, Labour’s spokesman on transport, said the job cuts were shocking and went further than people’s worst fears.

“Job losses on such a scale would mean that our national airline will be reduced to little more than a shell of its former self,” said Mr Broughan.

“What was once an international brand of recognised quality is now becoming just another low-cost airline.”

Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd said Aer Lingus’s survival was critical for the economy.

“The survival of Aer Lingus is absolutely necessary to maintain a competitive airline industry in Ireland,” he added.

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