Since the issue of the upcoming strike was raised in the House yesterday, Aer Lingus has, at the eleventh hour, invited the unions in to talks. I am not sure whether those talks have commenced. There was no indication earlier of when they might take place, but it is late in the day and follows on from the company's utterances yesterday more or less threatening workers that, should the new roster regime suggested by Aer Lingus cabin crew be brought in, the company would have no alternative but to shut its operations in Ireland and locate some of its bases in North America, with a loss of jobs.
The reality is that on Friday, hard-working, dedicated cabin crew, members of staff in Aer Lingus who no more want to join a picket line than the Minister or I, will be faced with no alternative but to do so. I ask the Minister to step back from this situation and look at the bigger picture, because there is no doubt that in recent weeks considerable and costly propaganda by Aer Lingus management has been meted out against its staff and the staff trade unions, in which the company sought to blame the unions for what it deemed as unnecessary strike action. It claimed that staff were looking for 32 extra days off and that the unions' suggestion of a trial of new rosters would significantly add to costs. Not only was it undermining its staff publicly; internally, it was engaging in vicious intimidation of those workers, organising and gearing up for the strike, writing to passengers in a way that was derogatory to the staff, cancelling flights, lining up hire-ins and so on.
We must be clear on this issue. Aer Lingus management has consistently refused to engage with its staff over three years. It has refused to attend the Labour Court on six successive occasions and, indeed, the court has written to say that it is flagrantly ignoring its recommendations, something that would not be tolerated on the workers' side. This issue is not about rosters. It is an attempt to beat the staff into submission and break the union. That is from a management that has already brought the other union, SIPTU, to court. That is the real agenda.
When Christoph Mueller came to Aer Lingus I attended a meeting at which he spoke about cabin crew. He said that cabin crew was once a job that people joined in the position of courier before progressing through the ranks, getting promoted and so on, but to his mind, across Europe and internationally, the job was being done by students on a casual and part-time basis. Workers could be hired and fired at will with no progression or security.
It is clear that the rosters Aer Lingus management is seeking to impose are an attempt to push workers out of the company.
There can be no other rationale for it. The workers are only seeking the same arrangement that exists for the pilot group and staff of all other airlines in Ireland and across Europe. All they are asking for is certainty in their work-life balance. Why would a company impose on workers a regime that provides for changes to their rosters with two, three or four hours notice? In other words, a person rostered to start work at 9 a.m. could at short notice be required to start work at 5 a.m. and a person due to finish work at 6 p.m. might have to stay until 10 p.m. Also, no scheduled meal breaks are provided. This is a pressurised work environment. Staff have reported severe fatigue to the IAA. The Minister is aware that their flight hours are capped by legislation. Staff are not seeking to work fewer hours. All they want is to be able to work in a more family-friendly environment.
There is no reason Aer Lingus management could not have discussed this issue with the staff. The Government's shareholding in Aer Lingus when combined with the staff shareholding equates to the largest shareholding in the company. What does the Minister propose to do in terms of holding management to account on this matter? I note the Minister's statements that the strike is regrettable. Nobody regrets it more than the staff. However, the cause of it is management. When does the Minister propose to call them to heel?