Over 1,000 Aer Lingus jobs face axe as cabin crew reject plan
Published 06/03/2010 | 05:00
THE threat of over 1,000 compulsory redundancies looms large at Aer Lingus after cabin crew rejected a rescue plan for the troubled airline.
Chief executive Christoph Mueller, nicknamed "the axeman", must now decide whether to act on his threat to impose massive job losses if there is no agreement with unions.
The loss-making airline's cabin crew yesterday rejected a plan to save €97m a year at the airline, which had been hammered out after months of negotiations.
The proposal would have meant around 600 voluntary redundancies, pay cuts up to 10pc and a three-year pay freeze.
But Impact union officials said it had been a hard deal for workers to swallow -- and criticised management for threatening even harsher cuts if was not accepted.
The Irish Independent last month revealed that staff were bitterly divided over the cost-cutting plan.
All eyes will now be on SIPTU, which represents ground-handling staff. Earlier yesterday, it seemed that the plan would be accepted after it was backed by two groups of staff -- pilots and middle management.
But in a major blow for the airline, it later emerged that 64pc of cabin crew voted against the proposal, despite their union's recommendation that they approve it.
The airline will not make any comment on its next step until two remaining unions announce the result of their ballots. SIPTU will release its ballot result tomorrow and Unite, representing maintenance staff, will do likewise on Monday.
Even if members of these final two unions back the cost-cutting proposal, it is unlikely that the airline can proceed based on only partial acceptance from the workforce of more than 3,000 people.
Sources at the airline said the agreement needed a majority vote in favour by each separate group of workers.
Although Impact had recommended the proposal, sources suggested that the tactic of threatening compulsory redundancies had backfired.
It said the threat had initially been made on the eve of the conclusion of talks last November, before being repeated by management recently.
"As the ballot was being conducted last week, the company briefed selected journalists and issued the same threat again, which IMPACT believes had an extremely negative effect on the ballot outcome," it said.
It said the proposals were "extremely unpalatable" to many members -- as they were tabled less than a year after cabin crew agreed to cost-saving measures valued at €15m.
Unions admitted they had a hard sell on their hands because some staff who had not benefitted from tax-free lump sums under a previous cost-cutting plan were objecting.
A controversial "leave-and-return" scheme over a year ago allowed some employees to take a redundancy package of nine weeks' pay per year of service tax-free. The staff could then return to work with lower pay and conditions.
But workers who did not avail of the scheme, or were not included in it, believe they are now being asked to accept similar pay cuts and changes to work practices without any financial gain.
The €97m cost-saving proposal -- with €74m from staff costs -- was negotiated between unions and Aer Lingus management at the Labour Relations Commission in November last year.
German boss Christoph Mueller previously provoked bitter strikes at another loss-making airline when he announced plans to shed 1,600 jobs at Belgium's Sabena airline, which went bust a year later.