Last-ditch talks to avert airline job losses

AER LINGUS and its unions were last night engaged in last-ditch talks at the Labour Relations Commission to avoid close to 900 job losses.

The airline will hold an extraordinary board meeting this afternoon at which management will outline how it intends to achieve €97m in savings in 2010. In October the company proposed to unions that figure be achieved with 676 job losses as well as job cuts (up to 40% according to pilot unions) and changes in pension arrangements, as well as ending certain routes.

However, when it became clear that cabin and pilot unions in particular were not going to sign up to that agenda and that talks on an alternative were failing, the company set yesterday as a deadline for worker representatives to propose an alternative. It said if no resolution was achieved by then, it would be forced to ground a number of long- and short-haul aircraft, meaning 200-300 more job losses in cabin and ground crews than the 676 already earmarked.

Yesterday, Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller said what unions had proposed by way of alternative to the job and pay cuts was insufficient. “We acknowledge that savings have been offered. However, it is critical that savings must be delivered in a full and meaningful way from 2010 and not deferred beyond the timeframe of the plan. This has not been the case so far,” he said.

An airline source said unions remained unprepared to countenance pay cuts and the alternative savings proposed would not only have yielded far too little in 2010, but were also far from guaranteed and could “crumble to dust in our hands”. The source said the unions were also looking for equity at a future date in exchange for any savings offered now.

Following discussions at the LRC both sides were due to report back to the Government’s troubleshooting organisation, the National Implementation Body to update on its progress.

However the airline insisted it would not be diverted from making a finite decision on the nature of the cuts ahead of today’s board meeting.

It is understood the airline is particularly keen to put its savings into operation immediately, given an indication from Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary that he intends to launch a third bid for an Aer Lingus takeover. Such a bid could be launched at any point after the end of January.

Going into yesterday’s LRC talks, unions refused to comment on the renewed threat by management.


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