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.