New industrial relations structure planned for national airline

Ireland's state-owned airline, Aer Lingus, is currently in negotiations with its trade unions on the establishment of a "partnership-based" industrial relations framework, within which a former key trade union figure will play a major role.

It emerged in April 1997 that the former president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Phil Flynn, is expected to play a key role in the new "partnership-based" industrial relations structure currently being drawn up between management and unions at Ireland's state-owned airline, Aer Lingus. Over 4,000 workers are employed by the airline and a further 1,600 by its maintenance subsidiary, TEAM.

News of this development emerged in April 1997 in the wake of the announcement that the airline's pre-tax profits rose to almost IEP 41 million last year. While Mr Flynn's precise role has yet to be decided, it is known that he will be the chair of one of the "legs" of the new framework.

The framework will involve a business group which is to pass on information to a joint union/management partnership steering group. This steering group is expected to evaluate issues raised by the parties and attempt to secure agreement. Issues on which agreement cannot be found would be referred to an independent "facilitation" process which could also avail of the conciliation service of Ireland's main dispute-settling agency, theLabour Relations Commission.

Any issues which remained outstanding would then be considered by an internal tribunal to be chaired by an independent third party. The process would formally terminate there. However, because Ireland's system of industrial relations is underpinned by the principle of voluntarism, any dispute could go to the ultimate voluntary agency, theLabour Court. If this were to happen, however, it would tend to undermine the proposed framework. Part of the reason for its establishment is an attempt to end what has become a perceived over-dependence by Aer Lingus and its unions on outside agencies.

The development comes four years after a more temporary industrial relations structure was established to help process the company's major 1993 cost savings plan to finality. That process was successful, in that it proved to be pivotal in speeding up procedures. One of the difficulties which has emerged since then, however, is that industrial relations environment in Aer Lingus has sharply deteriorated, particularly in respect of cabin crew and pilots. The new framework is seen as an attempt to address that problem.

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