Thursday, August 12, 2010

Aer Lingus cabin crew plan work-to-rule industrial action later this month

by B. N. Sullivan

IMPACT, the union that represents cabin crew at Irish carrier Aer Lingus, announced that its membership have voted overwhelmingly in favor of an industrial action, claiming that the airline unilaterally imposed contract changes last month. Aer Lingus cabin crew are not planning a strike; rather, they will work within their their existing contracts, i.e., the contract that was in place up until the time of this dispute.

According to the union, 67% of Aer Lingus cabin staff submitted ballots; of those, 96% were in favor of the work-to-rule plan, and only 4% against.

In a press release, IMPACT officials explained the union's position:
The dispute between cabin crew and Aer Lingus arose when management unilaterally imposed massive changes to working arrangements, supposedly to achieve the objective of 850 flying (or ‘block’) hours a year as part of cabin crews’ overall working time. Full-time cabin crew are currently contracted to work a 39-hour week, although they are only paid for 35 hours under an earlier productivity concession.

Cabin crew have accepted the requirement to increase flying hours to 850 a year, as part of overall working time, as set out in an agreed ‘Greenfield’ cost saving plan. They have not voted to accept the changes imposed by management last month.

Proposals for further changes to existing rules to achieve the annual 850 flying hours have been the subject of a Labour Relations Commission process, involving IMPACT and Aer Lingus management, as required under the ‘Greenfield’ plan agreed by management and unions.

But last month the company breached the ‘Greenfield’ agreement by unilaterally abolishing the existing agreed rules on working time and imposing new rosters based on minimum legal protections. These allow cabin crew to work 60 hours over a seven-day period, including long shifts without breaks.

IMPACT official Christina Carney said the ‘Greenfield’ plan, which was brokered by the Labour Relations Commission and accepted by cabin crew in a ballot in March 2010, did not contain the roster changes imposed by the company. Neither did it allow the company to arbitrarily impose changes to contracts or working rules. The union also says the imposition of the legal minimum rules is unnecessary to achieve the agreed changes and is contrary to practices used in most airlines.

Ms Carney said: “The 850-hours flying time can be achieved by agreeing changes to the existing working rules rather than abandoning them. June 2010 was the airline’s most successful month ever in terms of passenger numbers and yields, and that was achieved on the basis of existing contracts. For staff, this was a cause for celebration and continued commitment to working together to maintain the company’s success, in part by finishing the negotiations on an agreed implementation of increased flying hours. But management instead abandoned the negotiation and arbitration process being brokered by the Labour Relations Commission and unilaterally imposed unnecessary changes that nobody has voted on, let alone agreed, and which would leave cabin crew working 60 hours in seven days,” she said.

Aer Lingus responded with this statement:
Aer Lingus notes the outcome of the Impact Cabin Crew ballot. While we are at a loss to understand why another ballot was necessary, we welcome the decision by Impact Cabin Crew to work to their contracts and in particular the public confirmation earlier today by Impact that all cabin crew will work to the agreed 850 flight hours per year. These elements have always been an intrinsic part of the overall Greenfield cost saving plan and we welcome this clarification.

We continue to be party to the arbitration process however we will continue to gradually phase in the agreed productivity levels so that we can realign the cost base of the Company and position Aer Lingus for a successful future for the benefit of our staff, our shareholders and the travelling public.
IMPACT officials have stated that the union "is available for talks with the company or the State’s industrial relations bodies."

The union says their planned action will have no impact on flight schedules in and out of Ireland, and that this will not change "unless management escalates the dispute by taking disciplinary action against one or more cabin crew members for working within their existing contracts."