Aer Lingus staff say they are living in ‘near poverty’ and unable to cover rent
Airline insists it has acted in accordance with official guidance on Covid-19 wage scheme
‘Aer Lingus is very conscious of the difficult financial situation that some employees are in due to the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 crisis.’ Photograph: Getty Images
Aer Lingus workers, whose pay is to be restored from 30 per cent of its pre-Covid rate to 40-50 per cent next month, say they are living in “near poverty”, unable to buy school uniforms, cover rent or afford petrol to get to work.
Others say the company obstructed them from claiming social welfare entitlements, paid them less than they would have received on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and started pushing through work-practice changes without union agreement.
Aer Lingus has strongly rejected the claims, and said it had acted “at all times” in accordance with official guidance from the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners on the Covid-19 employment wage subsidy scheme.
However, some workers say they believe the airline is “trying to bleed us out” by “making it so awful to stay that we just walk away without them having to pay redundancy”.
Senator and former minster for social protection Regina Doherty told the Seanad on Wednesday about “absolutely heartbreaking” accounts she had heard from staff. She said pay rates of as low as €317 per fortnight “beggars belief” when the minimum rate on the PUP and wage subsidy schemes was €350 per week.
Workers spoke to The Irish Times on condition of anonymity, saying they were “terrified” of being identifiable to the company.
A Dublin-based member of cabin crew said her weekly income had fallen from about €700 to about €200 despite the fact she is still working six shifts a month. Aged in her 40s, she has had to give up her rented accommodation“and move back in with my mother” outside Dublin.
“I can hardly afford the petrol to drive up for work. I have a colleague who couldn’t afford to buy her children’s school uniforms starting school. Her parents had to buy them.”
She said she had had to wait “months” to get the UP-14 form signed by the company to enable her apply to the Department of Social Protection for the short-time working payment to supplement her income. This difficulty is repeated by most interviewees.
A member of Dublin ground staff now working six days a month compared to 20 pre-Covid said her most recent fortnightly pay cheque was for €250.
“My hope is to get a redundancy package. Up to last week they weren’t letting people go. It’s like they’ve been holding us hostage. A lot of people who would have been entitled to a good package have left anyway. The psychological impact, the stress, it’s major.”
A cabin crew member, also based in Dublin and a mother of four, said she was “lucky” as her husband was working elsewhere. “We can put food on the table. But I could name 30 couples where both are working for Aer Lingus.”
Her last fortnightly pay cheque was for €400. “What really upsets me is the way we have been treated by Aer Lingus. I am seeing a lot of crew severely depressed.”
Former Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, who has been contacted by “large numbers” of Aer Lingus workers in west Dublin, said she had “never experienced a group of workers – especially unionised workers – so in despair”.
The former state company was “driving a race to the bottom in pay and condition”, she claimed. “Aviation is in crisis, but it’s a temporary one, and the company has reserves of €900 million from a decade of profits.”
She called for the company to be re-nationalised.
Aer Lingus said due to the “catastrophic” impact Covid-19 has had on the aviation industry it has had to “place its entire workforce on reduced hours and pay”.
“Aer Lingus is very conscious of the difficult financial situation that some employees are in due to the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 crisis.”
It said the company had sought to retain all staff in employment but would soon be offering voluntary redundancy and incentivised career break schemes.
“On September 18th, Aer Lingus provided employees with greater clarity on the issue of pay, and advised employees in ground operations and cabin crew that pay levels will be increased effective from September 27th and reflected in the fortnightly payroll on October 7th.
“Aer Lingus employees that have queries about the application of income support… should liaise with the department directly.
“Aer Lingus hugely regrets the situation that all working in the airline are currently in as a result of Covid-19. Throughout this crisis the airline has sought to secure the future of the airline for the benefit of all of its stakeholders, including its employees.”