Country facing growing summer of discontent in several sectors

The Aer Lingus strike is just one of a number of disputes

Cabin crew at Aer Lingus staged a one-day work stoppage at the end of last month which is believed to have cost the company up to €10 million. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

Cabin crew at Aer Lingus staged a one-day work stoppage at the end of last month which is believed to have cost the company up to €10 million. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

 

As signs of recovery emerge in the economy, industrial relations in a number of sectors appear to be becoming more unstable.

Perhaps as a result of workers’ fears for their job security, strikes have been relatively rare in recent years. Indeed, concession bargaining was common as staff agreed to significant sacrifices in return for maintaining employment levels.

However, in the last week alone the National Gallery was closed for a day due to a strike by attendant staff, cabin crew at Aer Lingus announced a further two days of work stoppages, while the potential for disruption on the country’s train services increased.

The 1,200 cabin crew at Aer Lingus already staged a one-day work stoppage at the end of last month which affected around 28,000 people and is believed to have cost the company up to €10 million.

Strikes over two days in mid-June as the summer season intensifies would obviously cause even greater disruption. However, the row over cabin crew rosters is not the only threat to industrial relations peace in the aviation sector.

Expert panel

Dublin Airport Authority

The issue centres on funding difficulties in the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme, which has a deficit of over €760 million.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar told the Dáil last week that the deficit had arisen over the years as the companies and the members did not put enough into the scheme to match the benefits that were expected/promised. “Resolution of the issues will involve contributions from all the parties involved.”

This row has been running for a number of years and on several occasions there have been warnings that it could lead to industrial action.

It is likely that any proposal from the expert panel would have to be put to ballots of members in Aer Lingus and the DAA, which could take several weeks. However any proposals to emerge from the expert panel report are unlikely to satisfy everyone.

Pension issue

Separately there is also a pay issue involving pilots at Aer Lingus in the background.

On the trains, the coming days are likely to be critical as management at Iarnród Éireann has warned staff that it will unilaterally introduce a cost-saving plan, including pay cuts, if there is no agreement on cost reductions as part of a one-week round of talks.

Management said it had already been through the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court without any resolution to what it has described as the need to secure “critical” savings on its payroll. The company said it had nowhere else to turn but to last-minute direct talks with employees.

The rejection of Labour Court recommendations has been an increasing feature of industrial relations over recent months. Proposals put forward by the Labour Court aimed at resolving disputes have been turned down over recent months at Shannon Aerospace, Kerry crane manufacturer Liebherr, various companies in the CIÉ group, as well as by staff at Marks & Spencer.