INDUSTRIAL action which had threatened to “ground the Aer Lingus fleet” has been averted for now after the airline agreed to enter into negotiations with staff over proposals to end the lease on its Shannon maintenance hangar and move operations to Dublin.
Under Aer Lingus plans - which have been discussed at board level but Shannon workers only learned about through the media - only 15 of the 70-strong workforce would remain in Shannon, engaged in the type of light turnaround maintenance that wouldn’t require a hangar.
Offering jobs in Dublin to the Shannon mechanics would be “regarded as compulsory redundancies” and could result in a strike, unions warned last week.
UNITE said it was joining SIPTU and the TEEU craft unions in engaging in a protective ballot for industrial action and Shannon workers would appeal for support from colleagues in Dublin and Cork this week.
But the union’s regional organiser Brian Gormley confirmed on Wednesday that the ballot had been called off for the time being after the parties agreed to refer the dispute to the Labour Relations Commission.
Management and unions would thrash out the issues at a meeting pencilled in for the LRC on July 18.
“Things have moved on quite dramatically since last week and the matter has been referred to the LRC and neither party will engage in anything that will change the status quo,” Mr Gormley told the Limerick Leader.
That meant management was for now not going ahead with its proposal, which had been expected by the end of this month, to quit the hangar in Shannon and that staff would not engage in industrial action.
Fianna Fail’s Deputy Niall Collins, who has met the Shannon workers, has appealed to the Government to use its 25 per cent stake in Aer Lingus to intervene in the dispute.
Were Aer Lingus to close its Shannon maintenance operation, it would leave the Government red-faced at a time when one of its great hopes for the future of Shannon was the development of aeronautics and other aviation industry and services, Deputy Collins argued.
His colleague, Deputy Timmy Dooley, meanwhile, has urged the Government to use its shareholding to stave off the latest takeover bid by Ryanair for Aer Lingus.
“The existence of Ryanair and Aer Lingus as separate competing entities has transformed our tourism and business connectivity and any material change to the separate status of these airlines would inevitably lead to reduced competition, increased fares and less choice,” commented the Clare TD.
“Ryanair has provided good competition in the Irish market for many years. Its business model has resulted in cheaper fares and helped grow the Irish tourism market. What we don’t want is to see a reversal of this position.
“Our exports and tourism sectors will be central to the recovery of the Irish economy. Competitive air access to key destinations including access to major transfer hubs is a vital piece of the jigsaw in facilitating business connections and tourist access. The Government’s short-sighted position of not attaching a strategic status to the State’s shareholding in Aer Lingus has signalled an opportunity for Ryanair. It is now incumbent on the Government to protect Ireland’s interests. As an island nation we need a strong competitive aviation sector and two separate competing airlines is the best way of achieving that,” said Deputy Dooley.