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Friday 15 December 2017

Eoghan Corry: Cabin crew face turbulent future in tough new world

Michael O'Leary might be about to enjoy his biggest ever achievement -- by grounding British Airways and Aer Lingus at the same time.

O'Leary is not directly to blame, of course, He didn't create the pre-conditions that drove cabin crew to strike action in BA's case and to a stand-off situation with Aer Lingus, those normally polite and helpful folk who are members of the IMPACT trade union in Ireland and UNITE in England.

What Michael did was push his own cabin crew costs down so low that the other airlines began to bleed.

BA have pulled out of short haul operations. Aer Lingus went low cost to match Michael, then decided to go back to something resembling full service.

The Aer Lingus attempt to do legacy air travel without legacy costs is what pushed their cabin crew over the edge. Indications that there is no appetite for a strike among IMPACT members will be put to the test over the coming days and could mean a strike for Easter.

What caused the BA strike is not as clear. The strike is going ahead in two bursts, starting this weekend.

Leaked documents in the London press indicated just how close the BA strike was to being settled.

The issue, to do with working conditions and deferred pay increases, is so convoluted that even the negotiators have difficulty keeping track of it.

BA is to carry 60pc of its Heathrow passengers and operate full services from Gatwick on each of the three strike days. Some of the cabin staff may be additional pilots, who have volunteered to look after the cabin.

Aer Lingus is heading down a new runway with its negotiation terms. It's not the first Irish company to try firing and rehiring an entire block of staff, on minimum redundancy terms, nor will it be the first to get away with what is euphemistically referred to as "transfer of undertaking".

Union officials understand this, their members do not. The threat was enough to get most members to sign up for the deal. The section of the workforce that felt most aggrieved over recent years, the cabin crew, refused to follow them. Under the old rules they would be rewarded for not doing so.

The rules of engagement appear to have changed in mid-season.

Aer Lingus says it is not going back to the LRC, or any of the other intermediaries, because it has spent 160 days on the current plan. The old way was a spell in direct negotiations, a breakdown, and if the call didn't come from Merrion St to the management to settle the dispute, then a spell in the LRC and then somebody like the National Implementation Body would conjure up a compromise at the last minute that everyone could agree to without losing face.

It shouldn't be as simple as that. While 90pc of cabin crew are IMPACT members, 10pc actually voted for the package, as SIPTU members. The difference would have caused a previous Aer Lingus management sleepless nights. Not this lot.

When Christoph Mueller, said there would be "no sweetheart deals" with cabin crew it was the first sign we got the rules had changed. Nobody in Aer Lingus management had talked like that before.

We are at the end of the runway on this one. It is time for cabin crew to shut down or shut up.

Blame Michael.

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