More lay-offs in aviation sector likely, Fórsa conference told

Department of Transport mandarin tells forum of possible bespoke wage-subsidy plan

The Fórsa general secretary told the conference that the organisation had urged Ministers to work with aviation unions and others to develop a long-term plan. File photograph: Getty

The Fórsa general secretary told the conference that the organisation had urged Ministers to work with aviation unions and others to develop a long-term plan. File photograph: Getty

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Further job losses are likely in the aviation sector in the wake of coronavirus but additional State supports are being considered, according to the Department of Transport.

Department assistant secretary Fintan Towey addressed the Fórsa services and enterprises division conference on Thursday. He told the assembly that an aviation sub-group of the Labour Employer Economic Forum is reviewing a proposal for a special employment wage-subsidy scheme for the sector.

Mr Towey acknowledged there had been hardship and job losses in aviation due to the pandemic’s impact. But he said State supports of about €200 million had been provided last year in areas such as the pandemic unemployment payment, wage-subsidy scheme, deferred taxes and provision of grants.

The assistant secretary said the Government had also announced a further €80 million package last December. Mr Towey suggested the Government is open to considering a requirement for “further sector-specific supports” if that proves necessary to boost sector recovery. He reiterated that the Government had given a commitment that there would be no “cliff edge” for supports .

Mr Towey said that prior to the pandemic aviation was facing the problem of delivering capacity to match growth. He said 2019 had been a record year for passenger numbers.

However, he added that the industry was now experiencing its worst ever crisis.

He said when the pandemic took hold, firms like the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), Aer Lingus, Ryanair and the Irish Aviation Authority had all been in a relatively strong position.

“That has meant that those companies, and in particular the airlines, did not need urgent Government bailouts that were required for other airlines.”

He said those firms are working their way through their cash but had taken action to bolster their financial position, including raising capital from shareholders, issuing bonds, or raising loans in other ways.

Mr Towey said Aer Lingus and the DAA had received funding from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund. But he told the conference it is “now evident that the aviation sector would take some time to recover. This will necessitate some adjustment to employment levels.”

How did Fórsa respond?

Replying to Mr Towey, Fórsa national secretary Ashley Connolly urged the Government to put in place a “ bespoke aviation income support scheme to underpin employment and maintain the relationship between employers and employees over what is likely to be a significant period of recovery”.

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said the Government’s response to the aviation crisis had been, and continued to be, “tardy and timid compared to the challenges we face. We are tired of a Government and political response that, too often, substitutes real action with mere activity.”

He added that Fórsa has appealed directly to Ministers. It had urged them to work with aviation unions and others to develop a long-term plan, with Government support, to maintain employment in the sector.

“Our message was, and is, that the crisis facing the industry today is hurting aviation workers and their families. But, equally importantly, it’s having an extremely negative effect on the Irish economy as a whole. And it will continue to do so unless the industry receives urgent and sustained Government support,” said Mr Callinan.