TEAM craft workers vote for strike ballot


THE Irish aviation industry is about to be hit by a wave of industrial unrest. A meeting of craft workers at TEAM Aer Lingus voted unanimously yesterday for a strike ballot because they claim the company is refusing to negotiate on outstanding issues.

Workers at Airmotive, another Aer Lingus subsidiary, are to begin strike action on Friday over a pay claim and another strike is scheduled to begin at Irish Helicopters from Monday over compulsory redundancies.

Meanwhile SIPTU, which represents the bulk of Aer Lingus's 6,000 workforce, has indicated that it will shortly be putting in for a substantial pay claim.

The most serious dispute is that threatening TEAM. Yesterday's meeting was called after talks scheduled for Monday broke down.

The unions say that more than 200 members attended yesterday's meeting, despite threats from management that employees who participated could face disciplinary action. The company says fewer than loo workers attended.

A spokesman for the company said it was made clear to employees that the meeting was unofficial and they were not entitled to be there. A total of 1,700 people work in TEAM, of whom over 1,000 are craft workers.

Those who attended the meeting voted unanimously for a strike ballot to be organised because of the company's refusal to meet the craft group of unions and discuss key issues with them such as the use of foreign sub contract workers, changes in work practices and the early retirement scheme for older workers.

TEAM says it is prepared to meet the unions, either separately or as a group. The problem is the craft unions recently expelled AGEMOU from membership because it refused to be bound by group decisions. For TEAM collective meetings must include all seven craft unions, including AGEMOU. It says that if there is an industrial relations problem in the company it is an inter union one.

Mr Eamon Devoy, of the AEEU, one of the largest craft unions in TEAM, says there is no inter union difficulty preventing talks with the company. The unions had a right to order their affairs. TEAM could meet AGEMOU separately if it wished.

The craft unions have been coming under increasing pressure from members to allow shop stewards to become involved in meetings with management. A month ago some craft workers threatened to withhold subscriptions if shop stewards were not brought back into the negotiating process.

The group had intended proposing to the company that it agree to hold regular monthly meetings with the unions, including shop stewards, at Monday's aborted meeting.

It now looks as if tension at the" troubled aircraft maintenance plant will rise again, just as Aer Lingus is expected to announce a return to profits for the group later today.

It is also expected to announce that TEAM is meeting its targets under the five year rescue plan and that the operating loss for the company is down to £4.6 million in 1995.

At Airmotive, the Aer Lingus engineering subsidiary in Rathcoole, Co Dublin, the unions have served strike notice for Friday, in pursuit of a pay claim. It employs 433 people.

The Irish Helicopters dispute is over the laying off of 13 staff because the company has lost its contract to service Marathon's rigs in the Kinsale gas field. Strike notice has been served for next Monday.

Union members with Irish Helicopters in Shannon have said they will not do work normally done by the striking staff in Cork and Dublin.

SIPTU will be serving a pay claim likely to be well in excess of 5 per cent on Aer Lingus shortly. That is the amount its members have forgone in pay rises under national pay agreements in order to help the company back to financial health.

While relations between management and the union have been reported as increasingly "fragile" in recent weeks, it is unlikely they will break down yet. One sweetener is expected to be the first share bonus as the company announces its profits later today. This could be worth up to £750 a head to staff, including TEAM employees.