Cantillon: Votes of union member at Aer Lingus are what count

Failure to do a deal now could prove even more catastrophic for staff

For just a moment, it appeared that Aer Lingus workers were giving the Government the green light for a decision to proceed with a sale of Aer Lingus. The secretary of the unions' representative body told RTÉ workers had been swayed by commitments made by IAG's Irish boss Willie Walsh to an Oireachtas committee. And failure to do a deal now could prove even more catastrophic for staff than the cuts proposed by IAG. The views of union official Myles Worth chimed with those of former Labour party leader Pat Rabbitte, giving further cause for optimism.

Within hours, the prospect of a breakthrough had disappeared with rival unions scrambling over each other to distance themselves from earlier comments. Intra-union rivalry at Aer Lingus has, at times, been almost as intense as differences with management. It would be easy to dismiss Worth’s intervention as the misguided personal views of one man but that would be rash.

Members of the Labour Party were quick to note the change, with several saying they would be guided by workers’ views. All of which serves to clarify that party’s position: its decision on Aer Lingus will have less to do with national strategic interest or connectivity, and more to do with ensuring they secure the votes of Aer Lingus workers which could be key to the political future of party figures next year.

As management, unions and IAG met yesterday, there is a sense that workers at the airline are open to the possibility of a change of ownership. There remain a series of awkward hurdles regarding jobs, conditions and union recognition but an experienced airline union representative is unlikely to have raised his head above the parapet without at least some tacit support.


All of which could force the Government into a decision it is keen to avoid. As long as unions hold firm, the Coalition can long-finger any serious consideration of the IAG bid – at least until next year’s general election. If the workers change tack, they may be forced finally to address the economic case for and against any sale.

Ministers will probably hope that at least some Aer Lingus unions are as disinclined as they to come down firmly on the issue one way or the other.