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Mueller calls Impact's bluff

AFTER 15 months of shadow-boxing, the management at Aer Lingus finally called the bluff of the Impact trade union last week.

Ever since the formerly State-owned airline unveiled its plans to increase the time cabin crew spent in the air from 700 to 850 hours a year in October 2009 a showdown between Aer Lingus and Impact has been inevitable.

After the four largely wasted years of his predecessor Dermot Mannion, Aer Lingus has in Christoph Mueller a boss in the Willie Walsh mould once again. Ever since the German took over the controls of the airline in September 2009 it has been clear that he was serious about sorting out the firm.

Within a month of taking up his new job, Mueller unveiled his restructuring plan. It was designed to knock €97m off Aer Lingus' operating costs. A key part of the plan was that the flying hours of cabin crews be increased from 700 to 850 hours per year. While Impact, the trade union which represents the cabin crew, claims that its members haven't agreed to the new rosters which give effect to 850 hours, they have voted to accept the restructuring plan.

Most of us who live and work in the non-cosseted real world would have to conclude that, despite voting to accept the restructuring plan, Impact has been dragging its feet for the past 15 months. It must have known when it agreed, albeit reluctantly, to the restructuring plan that the inevitable result would be the contested rosters, or something very like them.

Now Mueller has lost patience with Impact's delaying tactics. He has chosen his time carefully. If you must have an airline strike then the best time from the company's point of view must be the quiet month of January.

Already 170 cabin crew have been taken off the payroll and the airline has hired aircraft to operate large parts of its schedule. Now Aer Lingus is threatening to go one step further and fire its refusniks. With Mueller clearly meaning business, the cabin crew would be well advised to return to work, while they still have jobs to go back to.

Sunday Indo Business