herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Now unions and bosses must sweat from dose of cabin fever

How did those nice friendly Aer Lingus cabin crew suddenly become so cranky?

The surprise for passengers today is that it is cabin crew who strapped themselves in, refusing to co-operate with management's grand plan to save the airline.

The result is almost certain to be a strike. But their own union is unsure how it happened.

And all that shocked Impact officials can do today is to repeat the well-recycled line that cabin crew have given a lot and were reluctant to give more.

The dilemma for union officials is that they failed to deliver their own members, a worst case scenario in industrial relations.

Getting the wrong answer should not be a surprise. It was a big ask. The ending of the good times in Aer Lingus was reflected in new redundancy terms.

In 2004 staff were offered pay-offs of 12 weeks per year, those who went in 2007 got seven. This year's lot got four weeks plus statutory redundancy.

It was capped at 104 weeks, and early retirement was not on the table. Those who go voluntarily will be much worse off than their predecessors.

Despite that, four out of five categories of workers were worried enough about the airline's future to give the right answer.

Cabin crew said no by a surprisingly large margin, 64-36.

This might be part of an international trend towards more militant cabin crew.

They have come to realise that they were the public face of the airline. BA's deal to avert a Patrick's Day strike was scuppered by the cabin crew two days ago. American cabin crew led the charge in a series of industrial action in the mid-noughties.

Cabin crew used to be regarded as pushovers, not to be compared with the hard men in the baggage hall and the precious pilots, with their envied terms and conditions.

Most people expected pilots to say no, seeing as they were the ones who stayed latest in the long drawn-out negotiations.

The cabin crew are also in competition with themselves, as they are organised by two unions.

Impact members were regarded as the less militant of the unions. Impact might have expected their colleagues to say no.

Instead the result went 4-1, with the Impact cabin crew members isolated. It was an opportunity for Christoph Mueller to sound hardline at his press conference yesterday.

A man who is beginning to handle the publicity game better than even Michael O'Leary jumped on the opportunity to say there will be no sweetheart deal.

"I believe that is my understanding of fairness. Someone who votes no to a proposition should not get an easier way out than the ones who have voted in favour."

He also said retaliation is not Aer Lingus's business, which shows that the offer of four weeks redundancy is likely still on the table, not the bare statutory redundancy that might have happened otherwise.

Mueller now has a plan to lay off 230 workers whether they want to go or not, but things rarely go to plan at Aer Lingus. The other four sectors who said yes are likely to support cabin crew if they strike.

They all feel bullied and having said yes to the deal, they might also say yes to industrial action proposed by their colleagues.

Siptu was the closest to saying no, voting 59-41 in favour,

The union is in a tight place. All anyone can say today is they want a negotiated solution, another negotiated solution after three years of negotiations for the previous deal and four months for the current one.

Unions like to take a strike ballot first to undertake their legal requirements and then go into negotiations.

They would have the alarm clock set just to remind the other side of their power. What has happened this time is the direct opposite.

Mueller's third point yesterday was that there will be no re-balloting. We don't know the destination of this particular flight as yet. But wherever we are going, it is not on the charts.

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