Like my colleague, Deputy Hogan, I thank the Chair for allowing Fine Gael at short notice to change its motion for Private Members' time tonight. I suspect the Government will try, as the Taoiseach did today, to imply that this involved incompetence on the part of Fine Gael. We did not table the motion last Friday, when we should have tabled a motion for Private Members' time today, because we had reason to believe that the Ministers, Deputies Cowen and Quinn, were as concerned as we were about the future viability and survival of TEAM Aer Lingus. We did not wish to play party politics with the workers in TEAM Aer Lingus or the company. We allowed the weekend to pass without making a move because we had reason to believe the Minister, Deputy Cowen, following many exhortations in this House and elsewhere, would meet the unions over the weekend. I know the unions were standing by in the hope that he would meet with them and that some solution, or at least the mechanism to find one, might be put in place. We appreciate that the Chair changed the rules of the House to allow us take this debate this evening, at a time of impending catastrophe for the thousands of people depending on jobs in TEAM Aer Lingus.
The opening of the TEAM Aer Lingus building on 6 May 1991 — which I had the honour to attend — by the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, was warmly welcomed and was a matter of great celebration, particularly by the people of north county Dublin, I am not referring only to the constituency of north county Dublin but to people from areas north of the Liffey into counties Meath and Louth where many skilled people knew they would get good and permanent jobs in the company. At the time the opening was referred to in the newspapers as the jewel in the crown of Aer Lingus.
In his opening speech the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, congratulated all involved in the project, but singled out the workforce. He congratulated Aer Lingus, its board and management "but particularly the workforce who have shown that they recognised the opportunity that existed and who backed that up by making the changes in work organisation and inter-trade flexibility which were necessary to enable this exciting project to get under way and succeed". That praise for the workforce was followed in 1992 by a speech in the Seanad by the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, when she stated:
We also have the magnificent TEAM facilities at Dublin Airport. I have had the privilege of examining these personally in depth and comparing them with similar enterprises abroad. In my view the TEAM facilities and workforce are the best I have seen.
Where has that confidence in the workforce gone? Today the jewel has turned to paste and the crown is severely tarnished. It is now claimed by the workers' representatives that the company was seriously under-capitalised from the start and that the £65 million debt was either inherited from the parent company or resulted from bad management forecasts of values of stocks and equipment and interest charges of £12.5 million on borrowing which could not have been foreseen. Whatever the reason for the crisis — obviously there are claims and counter-claims from management about workers and from workers about management — 620 people are out of work and the spouses and children who depend on their salaries are facing a bleak future if those workers go on the dole. A further 120, bringing the figure up to 850, will lose their jobs at the end of the week unless the Government recognises that this motion is the most reasonable we, as an Opposition Party, can table without causing further distrust and lack of confidence workers have in management and management appear to have in the chief shareholder.
The Minister should not tell us, which he may do, that the LRC report is the only answer to the problems in TEAM Aer Lingus. We know from the meeting of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies today that at least one management consultant said that the LRC report is not the be all and the end all. It is a formula for a solution, it is not the formula. The Minister has an opportunity to save face and accept this motion and not to proceed with the amendment he tabled. If he proceeds with that amendment and the LRC's proposal as the only one on the table, I believe the 1,900 jobs in TEAM Aer Lingus will go by the board and the company will go out of business.
How does the Minister propose to replace those jobs and that company? There is work in the international market for its expert staff. The Minister should not tell us, and expect us to believe, that he is prepared to go down the road of allowing the company to close with no chance of reopening and allow its business to flitter away from this country as it has begun to do. As the Government's representative and chief shareholder on behalf of the taxpayer — the taxpayers and not the Minister's or my money keeps such companies viable and allows them to work in the marketplace — the Minister has the responsibility to restore the company to viability and profitability.
To date the actions by the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Cowen, and his ministerial colleague, Deputy Quinn, have been totally unsatisfactory and unsuccessful. I do not believe they set out to be unsuccessful, but their proposals and actions have not worked and the Minister must be prepared to stand up and say — and it takes courage — that the LRC report was an honest effort to try to get the sides together again, that it has not worked and that we are prepared to sit down to talk again. I am under the impression that the Minister and his ministerial colleague, Deputy Quinn, hope that because the Dáil will go into recess on Friday the problem will die — there will be nobody sitting in the media gallery and nobody will be watching what is happening in TEAM Aer Lingus. As a representative of many of the people who have been laid off, I am not prepared to see that happen and to see this dêbêcle pushed to one side while we get caught up in the usual silly season issues. This is not a silly season issue, it is about people's livelihoods and the disruption of their lives. A representative of 300 wives of the workers in TEAM Aer Lingus told me that many people have already had to consider the possibility of selling their houses as they do not think they will be able to pay their mortgages while on the dole. The Minister should not give us the answers he has given us for the past week and a half that the LRC report is the only answer.
At the meeting of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies today which I attended, although I was not entitled to speak, I was concerned about the submission made by the craft unions in which they reiterated that their aims were the same as those of the Minister, of myself, of Fine Gael and other Opposition parties: that they want the company to remain viable and return to profitability. They said that even if they accept the LRC management terms, based on the company's figures, that would result in the saving of 2.6 per cent on total cost. Those savings, when applied to the hourly cost of aircraft overall, result in a reduction from £41.74 to £38.56. We know from the Minister and elsewhere the problem is that the cost per hour of work TEAM can offer to companies looking for their work is too high compared to other companies throughout the world. There is a big difference. Deputies on this side have not managed to get the message through to the Minister that by dealing with the matter as an industrial relations problem only, we are not tackling the root cause of the company losing £1 million per week, with debts of £65 million. Whatever the truth of where that debt came from, it is clear that by dealing only with an industrial relations element of a viability plan, this company may last for only another six months. If the company can reach some agreement on the industrial relations level, that may give the Minister and the Opposition a breathing space; but that will not be the end of the problem. Unfortunately, in October or November we will face the same problems we raised tonight.
I accept the Minister inherited many of these problems from the then Ministers. Deputies Brennan and Geoghegan-Quinn, but he should recognise that the constructive attitude of the unions is one on which he should work. Why in 1991 did the then Taoiseach talk about the workforce recognising the opportunity and being prepared to allow this exciting project to proceed? Why did the then Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, say that in her view the workforce were the best she had seen?
The unions have put forward constructive plans in the report they presented at the joint committee today. They listed a number of measures they consider they can offer. If the Minister accepts the motion we have tabled those measures can be on the table for the three day meeting we propose and can be discussed to establish if they will have the same effect as the provisions in the LRC report. We are all in agreement that there are serious problems in TEAM Aer Lingus. If the LRC has come up with one formula, surely it is possible to come up with another with the same net effect acceptable to the unions. I will list the constructive negotiation points which the union put forward. It will offer 100 additional voluntary redundancies over and above the 200 requested to the Cahill Plan. It agrees to total functional flexibility across both engineering groupings, avionic and mechanical. It agrees to numerical flexibility to alleviate the high overtime costs, an issue that has got much publicity. Many of the workers receive high wages because of overtime. It will agree to the hiring of temporary workers, but not exploited Third World cheap labour. It agrees to variable shifts, including night shifts. It will enter discussions with Mr. Donnacha Hurley with a view to agreeing new, enhanced cost-saving arrangements to attract new business and further cost savings totalling an additional £15 million.
I find it impossible to understand, when there is such an open agenda by the workforce, a clear convergence of expectations and needs by the workforce and management, and having regard to the unions' five point plan, that the Minister cannot agree to this motion. I do not know what will happen tomorrow night when this motion is put. I know what the Labour and Fianna Fáil Deputies said when they canvassed the workers of TEAM and its parent company, Aer Lingus, in north Dublin, because I canvassed those people also. They said they would not allow any involuntary redundancies and would ensure that the Government would protect TEAM and their jobs. They cannot continue to put their money on the LRC report when clearly it will not be accepted. There is no divergence among Deputies; we all agree the company must be saved.
The Minister must use his ministerial skills and accept our motion and not push Labour and Fianna Fáil backbench Deputies into voting against it. If they vote against our motion they will have no further credibility with the workforce that they tried to meet over the weekend and about which Deputy Kemmy, Chairman of the Labour Party, once again cried crocodile tears on television saying that the Government must give them another chance. That is what we are offering the Minister and his backbenchers — another chance to talk to the unions. If the Minister puts his Deputies to the point of having to vote against the motion some of the Deputies will jump ship and destabilise the Government; alternatively, they will not jump ship, showing the cynical nature of their commitments to the workforce. The Minister will be responsible for putting his backbenchers in that predicament and, having been a Government backbencher for a long time, I know the difficulty backbenchers face when they are not personally involved in the decision-making process.
There are 1,500 staff who transferred from Aer Lingus to TEAM and it is important to remember how that came about. If the people now working in TEAM had stayed with the parent company where they were, perhaps, cosseted, they would not be facing this crisis. There is a perception that by switching to TEAM they left themselves the butt of all the tidying up that needed to be done when the problem in Aer Lingus was sorted out. There is the perception that problems which should have been handled when the parent company was being dealt with were left until it came to handling TEAM.
A sum of £25 million was promised to TEAM Aer Lingus; £12.5 million was to be for redundancies. On 3 March we listened with great relief to an announcement on "Morning Ireland" that agreement had been reached, that the number of redundancies would be 250 which would cost a certain amount of money and that the remaining £12.5 million would go into the company to assist in opening up the market and making the company more viable. What happened? Hardly had those discussions concluded when we discovered that for some reason somebody, who has not yet been named, made a mistake and the redundancies would cost £28 million. Not only is there not £12.5 million for equity after the redundancies are paid, there is a shortfall of £3 million to pay the redundancies. Somebody's head must roll for such a mistake.
When I heard "Morning Ireland" on 3 March, I heaved a sigh of relief and I remember saying to my husband that I was thankful that an agreement had been reached, that although 250 people would lose their jobs they would, hopefully, be people whose families were reared and who might manage on the redundancy package. I thought an agreement had been reached under which not only would the parent company be solvent but so too would TEAM Aer Lingus. Within days that collapsed. Is it any wonder that there is no trust in the unions and that there is worry about the management in TEAM?
I do not believe all the problems are the fault of management but that, perhaps, the shareholder representatives on the board of TEAM have not been doing their job as effectively as they should. The annual report of 1991 states that the transfer of about 1,500 staff from Aer Lingus to TEAM Aer Lingus was agreed following assurances that their status as Aer Lingus employees would not be diminished by the move and that that agreement, together with the preceding ones on trade integration and productivity, marked a new high in industrial relations and pointed to much greater co-operation between staff and management in meeting the business challenges ahead. There was a firm commitment in the annual report that the workers moving to TEAM had some security of tenure in their jobs.
The report also stated that the TEAM Aer Lingus strategic plan aimed at revenues of IR£144 million and pre-tax profits of £13 million by 1995-96. If in 1991 somebody was making predictions of profits of £13 million by 1995-96, how are we debating losses of £1 million and debts of £65 million? I cannot get to the bottom of what has gone wrong and where the blame lies. It is not fair to blame the workers and to ask them to make all the sacrifices.
If the Minister genuinely wants to see this company survive, his only option is to accept this motion, withdraw his amendment and allow Deputies from both Fianna Fáil and Labour to support this motion. Then there is a chance that by the weekend this company will be moving towards a viability plan that will work and bring the company back to profitability. I wish to share my remaining time with Deputy Richard Bruton.