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Wednesday, 21 Sep 2005

Aer Lingus Voluntary Redundancy Scheme: Presentation.

The next item on the agenda is further discussion of the recent media reports concerning the Aer Lingus voluntary redundancy scheme. On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome Mr. Brian Gormley and his colleagues from the Aer Lingus Craft Group of Trade Unions and Mr. Michael Landers and his colleagues from IMPACT. I also welcome Mr. Laurence Gourley, legal adviser to Aer Lingus, and representatives from SIPTU who are in the Visitors' Gallery at the invitation of the committee.

I draw witnesses' attention to the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege but this same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. I propose we hear a brief statement from the Aer Lingus Craft Group of Trade Unions to be followed by a brief statement from representatives of IMPACT after which we will have a question and answer session. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The committee agreed earlier that delegates would have a total of 20 minutes as only IMPACT was due to come before it. However, because the Aer Lingus Craft Group of Trade Unions requested to attend we decided that each group would make a five minute presentation to be followed by a 20 minute question and answer session. I will be strict with regard to that session being in the form of questions and answers.

The Aer Lingus Craft Group of Unions welcomes the opportunity to raise our long-standing concerns regarding the actions of Aer Lingus management in its dealings with the workforce in general and craft workers in particular. The catalyst for this request to engage with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport was the recent revelations regarding the Aer Lingus HR document, Business Plan - July 2004. The existence of such a document, drawn up by five human resource managers and three members of the executive management team, is in itself proof that the concerns of the Aer Lingus unions regarding the negative and adversarial nature of the relationship between the unions and the company are justified.

The denials by the company chief executive——

It might be of benefit to Mr. Gormley to synopsise the document as he will not have time to finish it in five minutes.

It is a short document. I did not plan to take up too much of the committee's time.

The denials by the company chief executive that the proposed push factor strategies were never put into action are not accepted by the workforce, many of whom can identify where and when they were subjected to the actions suggested in the document. It is beyond dispute that suggestions to undermine employees' entitlement to a secure future working with the national airline were communicated to line management and acted upon in certain areas with great enthusiasm. Many past employees will confirm that they were told there was no future in Aer Lingus for them. These comments were delivered by their line managers. It is not uncommon to meet ex-employees who greatly regret their decision to accept the so-called voluntary redundancy package. They can now see that they were put under unfair pressure and provided with misinformation by local management and human resources personnel regarding their future in Aer Lingus.

Certain changes in work practices, shift patterns and unfavourable shift pay rates were used to convince existing employees that the emerging Aer Lingus would not only be a harsh place in which to work but that any future severance package would be less generous than the one then on offer. Workers received unsolicited company correspondence in their homes which set out the amounts they could expect to receive upon taking redundancy. This unusual step was seen by many as an attempt to involve close family members in supporting Aer Lingus staff reduction plans. Any independent assessment of the techniques employed at Aer Lingus to ensure the business strategy targets set out in the human resources document and imposed on the workforce will confirm that the culture which encouraged and allowed such a document to be created was and continues to be rife in the State owned airline.

While the revelation of instances of planned malpractice related to the human resources business strategy document of July 2004 is of concern to every union representing workers in Aer Lingus, the craft group of unions believes a culture of abuse of employees' rights has developed over a much longer period. The actions of Aer Lingus during and since the sale of TEAM Aer Lingus can certainly be seen as a forerunner to the push factor strategy. Many of the craft workers who left the employ of Aer Lingus at that time feel their decision was far from voluntary. This group of highly skilled and well educated workers will confirm the view that they were subjected to an orchestrated series of aggressive push factors in the run-up to black Friday, the name used by craft workers to identify the date by which they had to sign up to the FLS transfer terms, 9 October 1998. Although the group had written guarantees of continued employment with Aer Lingus — commonly referred to as letters of comfort — many felt betrayed by the airline because of the campaign mounted by management to ensure the sale of TEAM Aer Lingus went through at any cost.

Among assurances received by employees was a letter dated 10 April 1990 from Mr. JohnO'Neill, Aer Lingus general manager, personnel, which complemented all previous correspondence on the matter and stated that all Dublin based AMEs and SMEs on secondment to TEAM Aer Lingus would remain Aer Lingus employees and retire as such; that the tradesmen agreement was to continue to apply to all conditions, including Aer Lingus ADs; that pensions, privileges, flights and seniority would continue as formerly; that time accumulated in TEAM Aer Lingus would count as Aer Lingus service; that the guarantee would continue to apply if staff were subsequently promoted; that new staff would be recruited under the terms of the tradesmen agreement and conditions no less favourable than those of existing staff; that in the event of TEAM Aer Lingus encountering business difficulties, existing employees would continue to maintain the Aer Lingus fleet at the minimum; that new staff would commence work immediately; and that existing staff would not be required to second pending resolution by the joint study group of any outstanding problems with regard to Aer Lingus staff working in TEAM Aer Lingus.

A second letter was referred to——

Names have been mentioned with regard to these letters. Mr. Gormley probably realises that our terms of reference state we should not identify anybody.

I apologise. The names are in the public domain but I will leave them out if that is preferred.

I would appreciate that. Members will have the names in front of them.

The letters are in the public domain but I shall refrain from mentioning the names. I presume I may mention Mr. Brennan's name.

No. It is an unusual situation which is due to the terms of reference.

I accept the Chairman's guidance on the matter.

A letter dated 22 August 1990 from the then Minister for Tourism and Transport to the chief executive of Aer Lingus endorsed the assurances given to existing employees of Aer Lingus who were to work in TEAM Aer Lingus. A letter dated 28 August 1990 from the general manager, maintenance and engineering, to all maintenance and engineering staff stated that with legal, Government, ICTU and Aer Lingus backing, guarantees had been secured to the satisfaction of all. However, the threat of dire consequences to anyone who chose to exercise these guarantees forced many to accept the FLS transfer but it required legal intervention on the part of at least one craft union to ensure they were recognised in the final transfer terms.

Those who chose to exercise their entitlement to remain with Aer Lingus have good reason to question the denials of the company regarding the implementation of the practices described in the business strategy document. This group of aircraft engineers can point to constant abuse of their entitlements as Aer Lingus employees. Management has used many of the tactics suggested in the human resources document to punish those who decided not to transfer to FLS at the time of the sale of TEAM Aer Lingus. This included the threat of suspension upon refusal of non-technical jobs and the threat of termination if permanent assignments to these positions were not accepted. This threat was only lifted following legal action.

Many members of the craft unions were and still are doing unskilled work, including loading and cleaning aircraft and working in the kitchens and clerical areas, where they now receive lower pay than that of a tradesperson. Others who found work in aircraft maintenance continue to suffer the loss of seniority and work for reduced rates of pay. They have been subjected to continued pressure to accept lower rates of pay than their colleagues in Aer Lingus Technical and in many cases have had to accept redundancy and pension entitlements below those accruing to aircraft maintenance colleagues with similar service and qualifications. Grade titles have also been changed without agreement, leading to further frustration and confusion.

During a recent review of the technical ability of some of the remaining members of this group working outside the technical areas, management confirmed that, due to the lack of current qualifications, there were no opportunities for employment in technical positions available in the aircraft maintenance areas. There are approximately 25 contract and fixed-term workers employed as engineers at Dublin Airport. Contract workers are receiving training that has been refused to displaced craft group members.

While many of the issues regarding the return to Aer Lingus by members of the craft group are before the courts and cannot be directly referred to at this time, it is at the least an amazing coincidence that so much of what has been included in the human resources document can find reciprocation in the general treatment of returning craft workers since 1998. The craft group of unions is seeking the assistance of the Joint Committee on Transport in bringing to an end the institutionalised culture of abuse of employee rights that pervades in Aer Lingus. We are seeking to have those responsible identified and made to account for their actions.

I call Mr. Michael Landers.

Ms Christina Carney

With the committee's leave, I would like to make my address first.

Five minutes in total are available for the presentations of Mr. Landers and Ms Carney.

Ms Carney

I thank the committee for its invitation. I represent cabin crew in Aer Lingus, about whom I will speak specifically. Mr. Landers will discuss staff represented by IMPACT in other parts of the company.

I have worked with and on behalf of cabin crew in Aer Lingus since January 2001. Following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and the tragic events of 11 September 2001, it was clear that in order to turn Aer Lingus into a profitable national airline changes had to take place. Cabin crew and IMPACT worked constructively with management to develop a survival plan.

In September 2001, 1,800 cabin crew were employed in Aer Lingus. There are now 998 permanent cabin crew and 200 temporary staff, yet Aer Lingus flies to more destinations and carries greater numbers of passengers than ever before and will probably make a profit of more than €80 million this year. Furthermore, it continues to win awards as the best airline. Its staff, in particular those on the frontline, are the X factor which makes it special.

What has not been public knowledge until now is that, despite the particular loyalty and commitment of the cabin crew, Aer Lingus management has attempted in a planned and systematic way to make their working lives uncertain, miserable and unstable. I will detail for the committee a number of examples that prove without doubt that the management practices in Aer Lingus in recent years incorporated the implementation of what are now known as the "push factors". Specifically, I will show examples of lack of availability of in-week special leave which relates to part-time work, the closure and reduction of bases, change in uniform, and adverse changes in shift duties as experienced by cabin crew.

On lack of availability of in-week special leave, cabin crew, as part of their contract, have an entitlement to in-week special leave or part time once they have three permanent years service as cabin crew. In 2003 and 2004 the company attempted to deny IWSL to many cabin crew who were entitled to it. It is important to note that of the 1,200 or so cabin crew more than 1,000 are female. The job itself, in terms of a shift pattern, is very irregular and one does not know until two weeks prior to one's shift or work pattern whether one will be at home at night, leaving the house at 4.30 a.m. or out of the country for a number of days. IWSL is, therefore, very important to cabin crew.

The company deliberately tried to break the agreement made in 2004 and the matter was referred to the Labour Court which deemed that the agreement should be honoured. The company stated at the previous meeting of the joint committee that more than 30% of cabin crew were on IWSL. The majority who are on IWSL are merely reducing their working week by one day. The full time equivalent number of staff on IWSL is a little over 10%. The company knows the real value and need for the arrangement and deliberately created the uncertainty in June 2004, one month prior to the launch of the business plan, the result of which contributed to more than 537 cabin crew applying for the voluntary redundancy and early retirement scheme.

I will now detail examples of the closure or reduction of bases. In late 2002 the company threatened to close the London cabin crew base. Senior management representatives informed the London based cabin crew that they had two choices, to return to Ireland or to leave on a voluntary basis. At the time 41 cabin crew were based in London, many of whom had been there since the base was established and had set up home and had children at school and so on. IMPACT fought the closure and succeeded in keeping the base open. However, there are now only 13 cabin crew there. Many left the company while some came back to Ireland.

In January 2004 representatives of Aer Lingus management travelled to Shannon to meet the Shannon based crew. I heard about the proposed meeting and, thinking it unusual that all of the cabin crew were telephoned to inform them of the meeting, I contacted management of flight services and asked what was the purpose of the meeting. I was informed it was the usual get together. I was not convinced and decided to travel to Shannon to observe the meeting.

The company informed Shannon cabin crew that there was a surplus of cabin crew and that 45 cabin crew were to move to Dublin or, if they wanted, they could take the "package". The 30 cabin crew with the least service were written to by the company and instructed to report to the Dublin base with less than six weeks notice. I wrote to every Dáil Deputy in the surrounding area and the transport spokespersons of every political party seeking support for the Shannon staff. IMPACT balloted for industrial action and instructed staff to continue to report to Shannon Airport. The matter was referred to the Labour Court where it was proved emphatically that the company had no right under the cabin crew contract to behave in such a fashion and the cabin crew stayed in Shannon. Unfortunately, however, a number of cabin crew "chose" to take the package and, on the day a number of the Shannon based crew received their cheque, a new severance package which would have been significantly better in financial terms was announced. However, Aer Lingus was unrepentant.

The real core of the aforementioned example is that the cabin crew were scared and frightened; they had purchased their homes or taken leases on flats. How reasonable is it to tell someone to move such a distance with six weeks' notice? The purpose of the company was served because when the business plan was launched and the new severance package announced, many cabin crew had become so disillusioned with the company that more than 537 applied.

To deal with the uniform matter, the company gave detailed presentations to both IMPACT and directly to staff within which it proposed a new image, a low-cost image. At around the same time, without any additional information, a yellow polo shirt was put on display in the area used by cabin crew. I contacted the company and secured its agreement to full consultation on any change of uniform. Despite this, however, there was enough dismay as to cause many of the cabin crew to seek to leave the company, as it seemed to them to be the final kick in the teeth. Subsequently IMPACT brought the case concerning the business plan to the Labour Court. We outlined our objections and the court recommended that the business plan's demands on cabin crew were too great, that they were to be reduced and that we were to negotiate.

Let me deal with rosters. What is most difficult to accept is the failure by the company to produce what are deemed to be fair and equitable rosters. The rosters in recent years are not perceived to be fair. This matter has been raised directly with the company and the LRC. The combination of all of the aforementioned matters, as far as IMPACT cabin crew are concerned, demonstrates the particular style of management in Aer Lingus which incorporated these push factors. However, IMPACT and cabin crew will continue to behave in a professional and constructive way. We are prepared to negotiate change and increase productivity on an agreed basis. There is a new chief executive in Aer Lingus with whom IMPACT looks forward to establishing a working relationship, but we expect existing agreements to be honoured and that when and if new agreements are concluded cabin crew will be able to work in an atmosphere of stability and respect.

Mr. Michael Landers

I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee. I have been a full-time trade union official since January 2000. I deal with employers in the aviation sector, including Aer Lingus. The specific categories of employees with which I deal are pilots and members of the middle and senior management group in Aer Lingus.

In the five and a half years during which I have been dealing with Aer Lingus I formed the following impressions of the industrial relations culture in the company. It is extremely antagonistic. It is hard to exaggerate just how antagonistic it is. We expect industrial relations to be adversarial, given that both parties are coming to the table with different interests. However, the key to successful industrial relations is to be able to resolve those differences in a reasonably peaceful manner but that does not happen in Aer Lingus. It is my experience that there is a total lack of trust between the staff and management and between the trade unions and management. There has been a consistent inability to resolve issues internally between the trade unions and the company and issues are consistently referred outside the company to third party fora but even that does not solve all the problems. There has been a continual history of failure to accept third party findings, of issues repeatedly going before one third party after another and eventually, perhaps, resolution.

The company adopts an over-legalistic approach to industrial relations. Industrial relations in Ireland are based on the voluntarist tradition, not the law. However, Aer Lingus consistently approaches us stating what our legal entitlement is and that, therefore, is what it is proposing, rather than dealing with the legacy of industrial relations agreements we have with the company.

This has resulted in a classic "them and us" culture. There is a history of broken promises and agreements on the part of Aer Lingus management. Ms Carney has dealt with some of them. If I were to go through the entire list, we would be here for five hours rather than five minutes. Time and again promises were made and agreements entered into but not carried out. That leads to an automatic suspicion of all management initiatives.

The classic kind of management initiative in Aer Lingus around industrial relations issues is that, rather than the company coming to the trade unions and proposing change, it announces unilaterally that it is introducing change. We, inevitably, will resist this because it is contrary to agreements carefully negotiated during the years. This leads to conflict. Inevitably we become involved, possibly in industrial action, possibly in conflict resolution, perhaps using the machinery of the State. It all boils down to the fact that the company, instead of engaging constructively, pushes its own case forward and takes unilateral initiatives. Minor issues are consistently escalated into major ones and sometimes result in industrial action. Industrial relations issues sometimes become intensely personal and, instead of being resolved in a constructive atmosphere, this leads to bitterness which spills over in a general problem of low morale in the company. When a previous chief executive of the company was confronted with the statement that there was low morale in the company, he replied, "I don't care. There always has been low morale in Aer Lingus and it is not a problem." It has now become apparent from the document released that the engineering of low morale was more or less deliberate company policy. It is extraordinary that in a service business, where the image presented to the public is of utmost importance, any company or management should set out deliberately to engineer low morale in a company.

I am trying to give the members impressions but I want to back those up with a number of facts. The chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission told us two years ago that his officers had hosted over 500 conciliation conferences in ten years to deal with Aer Lingus. That is an extraordinary statistic — an average of one a week for one company. No other company in the country has to use the services of the Labour Relations Commission that often. The Labour Court website has over 150 recorded judgments involving Aer Lingus staff. That is an enormous number of individual disputes and problems that failed to be resolved within the company and had to be resolved outside the company.

In the past year or so the company has engaged routinely in the practice of using solicitors to present cases to third parties such as rights commissioners, the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court. With no disrespect to the legal profession, that is not the way to solve industrial relations problems. We do not have a legalistic industrial relations culture in this country. We have a voluntarist one whereby agreements are entered into. They are voluntary on both sides but when one enters into an agreement one is expected to keep it. The approach adopted by Aer Lingus is to look for loopholes and examine wording in detail. That is a very legalistic approach to what should be a non-legalistic area. A further practice the company has resorted to in recent years is taking mass disciplinary action against staff involved in industrial action. That is hardly conducive to solving the company's industrial relations problems.

In terms of ideas as to how that particular problem might be solved, it appears to me that the industrial relations function in Aer Lingus is under-resourced and under-staffed. The fact that the company believes it must effectively outsource its industrial relations, be it to the Labour Relations Commission, the Labour Court or solicitors, indicates that something is wrong. The company needs the in-house resources to solve its industrial relations problems in-house, as is the case in most companies.

Some kind of streamlined dispute resolution process is required. As I said, we have been involved in many disputes that have gone to arbitration, the Labour Relations Commission, the Labour Court or independent third party advisers, yet we never seem to get anywhere and these problems arise year after year. I do not want to be overly prescriptive about what the dispute resolution process should be but there are many successful models that could be adopted in Aer Lingus.

The resolution boils down to some simple principles that underpin good industrial relations, that is, that agreements are entered into and honoured, that there is meaningful and swift engagement when change is required and that when it becomes necessary to go to a third party for a finding, the third party findings should, in almost all circumstances, be accepted and implemented. We will not get from there to here in one fell swoop and it would be useful if the company sought the assistance of, say, the advisory service of the Labour Relations Commission or some other body or forum. It is clear that industrial relations business has not been done well for a long time in Aer Lingus and that needs to change.

I welcome both delegations. It is important that we take stock of the purpose of these hearings. This is our third meeting. We set out to form a view on the status of the so-called voluntary redundancy scheme and we have heard from most of the main players. Following today's hearings, although not today, the committee will discuss the issue and come to a judgment on the position arising out of the leaking of the human resources strategy.

We are all minded of the fact that as long ago as last October both IMPACT and SIPTU representatives came before the committee and gave us chapter and verse on activity and behaviour most of us would regard as inappropriate and unacceptable in any modern industrial relations situation. It is disappointing for us to hear that the national airline, which seeks to portray an image of modernity and so on, is behaving in an antediluvian way in its dealings with staff. For a service industry, that does not augur well for the future of the company in terms of maintaining high morale. That is a matter the committee must take up with senior management in the company.

The committee heard from representatives of IMPACT and SIPTU last October of complaints about activities that would appear to be consistent with the leaked HR strategy document, particularly in terms of what it called the environmental push factors. Far from being a draft document, the company appeared to be actively implementing those push factors. We have already heard that IMPACT and SIPTU had made several complaints and IMPACT was in the Labour Court on a number of occasions arising from the implementation of those push factors. Has Mr. Gormley made formal complaints either to senior management in the company or through the IR machinery available to him on that type of intimidation and bullying of which many of the other sectors in the company have complained in the past year or so?

Regarding craft workers, many of Mr. Gormley's union members are highly qualified and he said a number are now working in non-craft areas. They are doing more menial tasks, are not using their skills and are not being paid adequately given their qualifications. How many of Mr. Gormley's staff would be in the position where they are doing work other than qualified craft work? How is the company managing to keep up the servicing of aircraft? Is there any question of contracting out work or are temporary people being brought in? Given the level of work the company is doing, I would have thought it would need all the qualified craftspeople who are on the payroll. Why do we have a situation where highly qualified craftspeople are doing menial work?

The news story that broke at lunch time that the Aer Lingus company had lobbied the Government to make amendments to the Equality Act essentially to allow it to discriminate on age grounds raises serious issues about the way Government policy is decided and how individual companies and various interests can get access to Government and get legislation passed quickly. I was shocked when I heard that the Government was compliant in that and I would like to hear Mr. Gormley's views now that he is aware that direct lobbying took place between the company and the Government. What does he believe are the implications for industrial relations generally in the company, particularly in regard to staff who are likely to lose out as a result of this change in legislation?

I will answer as best I can the questions posed concerning the craft group. The craft group has made many representations to Aer Lingus in recent years and currently regarding the treatment of our members. We did not bring documentation with us but we can forward documentation that will substantiate the number of complaints made by our members and the high level of stress-related illnesses due to their treatment, all of which are well documented. Some are in the legal process and some not. That is where we stand on the matter, on which we have been very active.

Deputy Shortall asked how the company was maintaining its fleet. She was correct in saying it was doing so with approximately 45 temporary staff while our members continue to do other work outside the technical areas. Approximately 50% of current craft workers engaged in work surrounding the turnaround of aircraft and technical areas are temporary or contract staff. While they receive training, such training has been refused by Aer Lingus to our members who are not doing and cannot get those jobs.

Has the craft group of unions fully trained craft worker members doing non-craft work?

We have fully trained, accredited apprenticeship indentured tradesmen doing non-craft work. They cannot even gain access to training with Aer Lingus to bring their skills up to date.

Clearly, they are not being paid the rate they should be paid.

They are paid the rate applying to the job they are doing. That rate is well below the rate of pay for the trade jobs to which they aspire and believe they are entitled to be assigned in Aer Lingus.

On what pay rates are the craft workers the company has brought in on a temporary basis?

They are on the appropriate rate for their trade.

Therefore, there is a direct displacement of such staff.

They are all be covered by the general agreements applying to the craft group. They are not paid at the top of their scales but, to the best of my knowledge, the appropriate rate while doing our members' work.

Is Mr. Gormley aware of staff recruited through outside agencies being paid a premium salary in excess of the rate currently paid to existing craft workers who have been directly recruited?

I am unaware of that.

Has Mr. Gormley received any such reports?

No, none of which I am aware. We understand the company is paying the current craft rates, appropriate to the agreements, to those workers, even though they are temporary or contract staff.

I asked a question about an amendment of the Equality Act.

Mr. Landers

I am not sure of the details of that proposal but it would typify Aer Lingus's approach to matters in general. If it encounters a problem, it would approach Government to try to get the law changed rather than approach the unions and staff to come to some agreement to solve the problem. The same approach was adopted when the supposedly voluntary redundancy scheme was unilaterally introduced in the summer of last year. The terms were not agreed and the final terms were only established following a Labour Court case taken by the trade unions. If Aer Lingus has a problem in terms of redundancy provisions and qualification for redundancy, the first thing it is should do is approach the trade unions, discuss it and try to reach an agreement on it. As I do not know anything further about the details of it, I cannot respond any more meaningfully on it than that.

I welcome the delegation and appreciate the information its members have brought before us. It seems clear from this and previous presentations on this matter that there was a culture among certain groups of management of using intimidation to achieve a certain result. It appears that while it was not written anywhere it existed. The push factor documented in the recent HR document was not a proposal but merely documentary evidence or acceptance of a procedure that was in place for a long time. Perhaps it was due to naivety on the part of the people that they put that information on paper. They were only representing a view they had thought was part of the culture. It appears it was common for many years. One of the delegates might comment on this.

The practices Mr. Gormley highlighted in the examples he gave shows that this culture has been evident for a long time. Given what Ms Carney said concerning the cabin crew at Shannon, a matter with which I am familiar, there is no doubt that serious intimidation of those staff took place. Ms Carney highlighted their concerns about the proposal given their marital status and that they had children in school. The company's approach to those staff members is a matter of serious concern and reflects its culture. I do not accept the denials we received from the company in this respect.

As a result of exposing this culture and the documentation highlighting it, do the delegates believe there is a brighter future ahead for the staff, given that what has been happening is out in the open and people are more aware of what has been going on? There will have to be greater transparency. Given that many of the individuals in certain positions have changed, do the delegates believe the company is on an upward curve and that there is less potential for such practices to occur into the future, or are we missing something? Is there still something embedded in the structures of which we are not aware and on which we need to focus? While what the delegates have told us about what happened in the past is useful, it also adds to the documentary proof that there is this culture. Is that the end of it or is there something still embedded in the structures for which we need to be on the look out and with which we need to deal?

I welcome the delegates from the trade unions, some of whose members are in the Visitors' Gallery. I have no doubt that there is this culture. When there is such a culture in a company, it is reflected by the staff it in their attitude towards the service they provide. Anyone who uses the service will confirm, as has been said to me recently, that cabin crews in Aer Lingus who used to be the best in the world now have a completely different attitude. That attitude has developed because they are working under stress or probably being intimidated.

The last paragraph of the first page of Mr. Gormley's presentation raises some concern. He stated that it is not uncommon to meet ex-employees who have accepted an exit or severance scheme and that they accepted it because they were put under unfair pressure and given false information by HR personnel. If that is the case, there is a precedent in this regard where that happened in another company in which I and Mr. Landers worked at one time. Some staff members accepted voluntary severance schemes under similar circumstances but legal action was taken and they had to be reinstated. The voluntary severance payments they received were paid back to the company on an instalment basis. There is such a precedent. Are any legal cases of that nature currently in progress?

I join my colleagues in welcoming the delegates. It is the second leg of this issue that is being dealt with before the committee. This has been an extremely worthwhile exercise and I thank the delegates for their contribution.

I described the factors, which I do not want to flatter by ascribing to them a nice term, which brought us all here as sinister. They are still taking place and of long-standing, of that I have no doubt. Since the previous meeting in late July, several instances have been brought to my notice by members of staff — not trade union officials or members involved in the union — of the company. Yesterday I received a telephone call from a cabin crew member for whose position I have sympathy. There is no doubt that these sinister practices are still going on. The company has not learnt from the recent flurry of publicity, which I hope will continue in this regard. I have a simple question for each delegation, namely, what can we do to help them?

I will answer the last question first as it is probably the easiest to answer. We in the craft group believe a thorough investigation needs to be carried out by an independent person to establish who in Aer Lingus is culpable in this respect, how long this situation has been out of hand and who will take responsibility for it. That is what must happen.

Regarding the other questions, I was unaware of today's news, for which members will have to forgive me, as I was busy writing and tidying up my presentation. It would not be unusual for Aer Lingus to put its position to the public before it addresses anyone in the company. It did that recently when there was a proposal by some of the management to buy the company. I am sure the committee and everybody was unaware of its ideas until it told us. I was unaware but I am not surprised. I do not wish to be overly negative towards the company. As I worked in the airport for many years before I became an official, I have a long-standing respect for the employees of Aer Lingus and for some of the older management but that is another day's work.

As to whether it would help if we were all able to move on, the unfortunate truth is that the immediate denials of the chief executive have made it difficult for us to believe we can go forward without further investigation. There was no mitigation in his reply, which simply said it never happened. However, we know it did and it is a difficulty for us. A new chief executive might have taken a different course of action but, unfortunately, the chief chose to deny it. While Aer Lingus is in denial, there is not much hope for an improvement in the process. One must confront the issue and deal with it.

The craft group has always tried to do its business in a proper and appropriate way. We are great believers — people will probably tar us with the black brush — in agreements. We harbour agreements for years and live with them. We take the good with the bad. We have found that in Aer Lingus — in particular in recent years, certainly going back slightly before the sale of TEAM Aer Lingus — agreements are undermined, broken and simply discarded. We have fought tooth and nail and our members have suffered greatly because Aer Lingus has attacked the agreements which the craft group has held and valued for many years.

The issues with which our members have had to deal need to be thoroughly examined. We cannot do that at this hearing. There are legal implications. At least one of the craft unions is currently involved in a major case to try to establish the entitlements of people who came back and to ensure they get the benefits of them. We were not able to do that through the normal industrial relations process because of the legal issues, as was mentioned. We were only capable of doing that via the court system which is a poor indictment of the culture which exists, one could say on both sides.

We cannot comment on the legal cases but there are plenty of them. This is not a union which normally involves itself in litigation but in some circumstances there is no choice. One must protect the rights of the employee and if one cannot do so within the industrial relations process, one must try to do so the other way.

Are there legal cases pending in regard to people who left as a result of intimidation?

Some 55 people are approaching the High Court to try to get justice for the way they were treated when they either tried to return from TEAM Aer Lingus or since they returned.

Is that with a view towards being reinstated?

Some are in the company while others have left, as the Deputy rightly pointed out. Some were unable to take the strain and left. A number are trying to get their entitlements under the letters of comfort and as normal employees in a company. That is one case of which I am aware but there is a number of subsidiary cases. This has evolved. People have had serious difficulties with their health and with the way they were treated. A number of individual cases are being supported by certain unions also.

The reason I ask is that when we put this to the chief executive of Aer Lingus, he said he had nothing in writing about this and that it was not true.

Aer Lingus will be engaged with at least one craft union in the Supreme Court sometime next month regarding this issue and similar arrangements.

Mr. Niall O’Hara

Some of the craft group people who took the redundancy package had to sign a waiver that they would not sue Aer Lingus. Therefore, they do not know where they stand as regards whether the Supreme Court will rule in their favour. One of the conditions when they left was that they would sign this waiver that they would not take further legal action against Aer Lingus. They left with pay below the rate on which they should have been. That meant their pension was down on the correct rate which meant the package was down on the correct rate. However, they had to sign a legal disclaimer.

Ms Carney

I wish to deal with the issue as to whether this is the end of the culture. I am not sure it is over. Only time will tell. What concerns me is that there does not seem to be an indication of genuine action to try to change the culture or the disrespect which staff suffer every day in Aer Lingus. I somewhat disagree with the Deputy who spoke about cabin crew nowadays compared with that previously. Aer Lingus still wins best airline of the year based on its frontline staff, whether cabin crew or staff on the ground. The head of another airline was asked on radio the other day which was his favourite airline. He talked about Aer Lingus and its frontline staff. Despite the culture in Aer Lingus and the treatment staff must suffer, the staff are extremely professional and proud of the work they do in spite of the failure of the company to recognise and reward it. It is appalling that the workers in the national airline, of which we are all proud, are treated in this fashion by the management of the airline. At the last meeting, the chairman denied A, B and C. I have all the Labour Court recommendations dealing with each of the issues referred to in the push factors. We had to go to court about the staff at Shannon Airport, special leave, rosters and so on.

Will Ms Carney forward to the secretariat copies of them for the information of members of the committee because it is something we might need in the future?

To clarify, I was not giving out about the cabin crew. The point I was making was that the manner in which they are being treated by management would reflect on their performance which would not be good for the airline and management. I would not like to see that happen.

In his submission Mr. Landers referred to over 150 Labour Court judgments issued in respect of Aer Lingus staff. Does he have a breakdown of the number of decisions favourable to staff? It would certainly be a great help.

Mr. Landers

I do not know off the top of my head but I could certainly get that information for the Deputy. I suspect most of them would have been favourable to staff — perhaps three quarters, or seven eighths.

I would be interested if Mr. Landers could give us the figure.

Did the company ignore a number of those decisions of the Labour Court?

Mr. Landers


Perhaps we could have that information.

Mr. Landers

We can get it.

I wish to respond to a few of the questions. Deputy Brady asked about the existence or otherwise of legal cases. It is an interesting question because a number of members have approached us with a view to seeing whether they have a case. There could be cases, for instance, under equality legislation, that is, that people were effectively forced out of the company by virtue of their family status, and we are examining that. It is a potential minefield for Aer Lingus that there could be an exposure in respect of people who would regard themselves as having been forced out of the company and now wish to review that status. Of course, it would be very big decision for somebody to do this. Therefore, it might not come to fruition. However, it is not something we know at the moment but it is a potential liability and is something which this particular document has exposed because anybody taking such a case can pick up this document and say it was policy.

That brings us back to the questions of where we go from here and what should be done. I agree wholeheartedly with what Mr. Gormley said that it is absolutely no use for Aer Lingus to say this did not happen, that this was only a few random thoughts jotted down on paper which were never implemented. What Ms Carney and Mr. Gormley said has shown very clearly that these were policies which were implemented. Many of them are on the public record in the form of Labour Court judgments where the court recommended that the particular practices should stop. It would be only fair of Aer Lingus to acknowledge this. We are not looking for an apology or for sackcloth and ashes but this must never happen again and that whatever it takes to ensure this must be done.

There was the suggestion that there be some form of third party assistance. The obvious third party we suggest is the advisory service of the Labour Relations Commission. That is exactly for what it was set up and its area of expertise. The LRC has been of enormous assistance to us in resolving a number of the problems that were irresolvable in Aer Lingus. The commission has a very good track record in that regard. However, an examination of the industrial relations culture in Aer Lingus is needed. There must be external third party involvement because, clearly, all is not right and it cannot and should not be allowed to continue. I ask members of the committee for their assistance in bringing this about.

We all agree a number of the practices outlined to the committee are totally unacceptable in the workplace and that workers should not have been treated in the manner they allegedly have been. However, if this policy continues, we would appreciate if Mr. Landers brought it to our attention and we will take the matter up with Aer Lingus management. If the human resources system does not work in a company such as Aer Lingus, there are so many culs-de-sac that the LRC could have a full-time representative in the company. However, the exposure this issue has received in recent committee meetings should mean Aer Lingus will deal in a more appropriate way with the unions as well as everyone else in addressing labour relations problems.

We have done as much as we can, given that we have discussed the matter with all the unions involved. I hope Aer Lingus will recognise, following the committee's deliberations in recent months, that there is a need for its human resources staff to brush up. I hope the company will take the appropriate action.

I propose that the new chief executive of Aer Lingus should be invited to appear before the committee to discuss a number of issues.

That will happen later in the year.

Could the meeting be brought forward? I would not like this issue to take up the entire meeting but could it be placed on the agenda?

We might write to the new chief executive and seek his comments on what has taken place. A new appointee to Aer Lingus will not want to carry forward baggage and I expect he will want to get this issue off the agenda quickly because good labour relations are important for the future of the airline.

Mr. Mannion should be invited to appear before the committee at an early date. We would all like to hope this exposure will change the climate within the company but I am not confident that will happen. We have a responsibility to take action on foot of the information given to the committee. I am not sure it is sufficient to ask Mr. Landers to come back to the committee to inform members whether this is continuing. Many union officials appeared before it last October to outline what was happening. The issue received publicity but then the story died until the document was leaked. The committee has been asked to request the advisory service of the LRC to examine the industrial relations climate within the company. That is a concrete request the committee can make. We are committed to the future of Aer Lingus and want it to continue to be successful. We are all bitterly disappointed by the climate created within the company in recent times. All of us have said in our own way that such activity and treatment is completely inappropriate and unacceptable in this day and age. We should take action of foot of this. It should be ensured we find out objectively what has been happening.

Before our next meeting, we will more than likely have the documents promised to us regarding the specific cases dealt with by the LRC. At that stage we will make a decision about where we go from there. I would like to have those documents before we take a decision. However, the push factor is not acceptable to the committee or the general body politic. It is not a good way to conduct industrial relations.

It is important that the committee should not rush into anything. We should obtain the information we requested. Even if we were to refer to a third party process, what are the chances of the company abiding by the findings of such a process?

We are not in a position to decide. When we receive the appropriate documents, we should discuss them.

It is important that we reach a conclusion.

Yes, at that stage.

The committee should produce a formal report in which it concludes what it has understood to have happened. While we are prevented from making findings of fact, we should produce a document with conclusions following these hearings.

We will, I hope, receive the necessary documents before the next meeting. We have received a further submission from SIPTU following its appearance before the committee, with which we will also deal. It is imperative that the message goes out loud and clear that the push factor is not acceptable to the body politic in the conduct of good labour relations. It would be detrimental to the development of Aer Lingus if this policy was to continue. I thank Mr. Landers, Ms Carney and Mr. Gormley for their submissions.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.35 p.m. and adjourned at 4.55 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 5 October 2005.