Aer Lingus faces all-out strike action

THOUSANDS of Aer Lingus passengers face a strong prospect of being grounded within the coming weeks as relations between the company and its workers reach an all-time low.

The company had put a deadline of August 1 for an involved rationalisation process — the Programme for Continuous Improvement (PCI 07), which would have an effect on employees’ holiday entitlements and overtime payments among other things.

But the deadline was put back, with unions and the company due to meet on August 8 to discuss a section covering cabin crew.

However, even if that section is resolved, there is still a chasm between both sides, which is unlikely to be filled in the existing atmosphere.

The unions, and in particular SIPTU which has 1,800 members at the airline, have opposed PCI 07.

Earlier this year, workers voted in favour of strike action and that was only averted when an agreement was reached to attend discussions in the Labour Relations Commission.

Information has been exchanged between the two sides for several months, but the process took a negative turn when Aer Lingus boss Dermot Mannion wrote a letter to the unions saying the process must be wrapped up by August 1.

The feelings of SIPTU about that were laid out by its national industrial secretary Michael Halpenny in a letter to Mr Mannion.

In it, he wrote: “There had been no prior discussion or intimation that such a date, or indeed any date, would be nominated by management and, certainly, not in such a unilateral fashion.”

The union already has its members balloted and those members are even more militant than the first time strike action was proposed because they claim:

* Up to 40 members of senior management are to receive significant bonuses for forcing through PCI 07.

* The threat of a Ryanair takeover that precipitated the change is no longer a threat.

* The latest analysis by Merrion Stockbrokers for Aer Lingus shows a price target of €3.20 on the stock and projects profits of €87m in 2007, €99m in 2008 and €109m in 2009.

“This, on the face of it, presents a much healthier set of circumstances than outlined to the Labour Court in March of this year,” said Mr Halpenny.

However, in a statement last night Enda Corneille, business development manager at Aer Lingus, said progress on PCI 07 had been far too slow and he laid the blame at the door of the union.

“We are extremely disappointed at the rate of progress following rounds of talks and many, many meetings. There is a small element of unfinished business with the cabin crews to be addressed on August 8. We were looking for that since March. We feel we have exhausted the third party route and now we are considering our position.

“The requirement for PCI 07 remains as strong as ever and our determination to implement it is as strong as ever.”

He rejected the suggestion that the fate of the Ryanair bid negated the need for the changes at the airline. He said in fact the competition in the market had strengthened even more since then, making the need for the implementation of PCI 07 stronger than ever.

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