Saturday 18 January 2020

Aer Lingus threatened with industrial action over 'breach' of agreement

Aer Lingus
Aer Lingus

Paul Neilan

Aer Lingus has been warned of industrial action by an emergency motion from the Fórsa trade union conference, over a "breach" of its collective agreement between workers and management.

The first-ever conference of the trade union's services and enterprise division voiced its discontent with the airline for "unilaterally withdrawing" from an internal dispute-resolution mechanism and fire a warning shot to the airline over its decision to leave in what it says amounts to a "breach" of agreed collective bargaining practises.

Yesterday, in Galway, union delegates heard from Fórsa National Secretary Angela Kirk, who said the union "reserves the right to take whatever action we deem appropriate in order to ensure compliance with this collective agreement".

The process, known as the Internal Dispute Resolution Board (IDRB), was established by Aer Lingus management request in 2016 but the company is now accused of walking away from the procedure because "it simply is not getting what it wants".

The IDRB is used as a mechanism of early resolution to avoid individual cases requiring the intervention of state bodies, such as the Labour Relations Court.

"Alterations to a collective agreement require the agreement of the parties and Fórsa does not accept that Aer Lingus can unilaterally alter a collective agreement. Fórsa will continue to refer appropriate cases to the IDRB," she said.

Divisional chair and Aer Lingus worker Gillian White said the IDRB had been working for both management and staff.

"It is with great regret and considerable anger that I have to report to you that my own employer, Aer Lingus, has, in the last short while, unilaterally walked away from the IDRB that we established. It was working and we were happy to have established a more effective voice for workers in the company.

"We felt there was more of a chance that management would start to listen," she said.

"They have walked away, in my view, because they were simply not getting their way on every single issue.

"We see this as a fundamental breach. It's inevitable that if this unnecessary and ill-advised act is not reversed it will be more difficult to conduct productive industrial relations and deal constructively with the conflicts that inevitably arise in this highly competitive sector." she warned.

Parallels were drawn between Aer Lingus and notoriously anti-union airline Ryanair when she spoke of "the challenge of increased competition, new regulatory regimes, structural changes and the threat of privatisation".

"It is clear that pilot shortages, coupled with the long-standing and courageous campaign of our [aviation union] Ialpa branch are what drove Ryanair to talk to this union at the end of last year," she said to the sustained applause of gathered delegates.

IDRBs have become a common forum in a number of state companies, including Dublin Air Authority, the Irish Aviation Authority and Coillte.

Following a March 9 letter from Aer Lingus announcing its intention to withdraw from the IDRB process, the emergency motion was tabled at a conference at Galway's Clayton Hotel yesterday afternoon, when 100-odd delegates approved a motion that the divisional executive "take what steps it deems appropriate to ensure Aer Lingus honour the terms of this agreement".

The Services and Enterprises division of Fórsa represents 6,000 workers with a strong representation from the aviation sector.

Fórsa came into being in January of this year and is an amalgamation of the Impact union, the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) and the Public Services Executive Union (PSEU), representing some 80,000 members in all.

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