Ireland: Landmark agreement at the Irish Aviation Authority

A major new five-year collective agreement between the Irish Aviation Authority and the trade union IMPACT balances the company’s need for cost stability and change with the union’s goal of protecting pay and conditions. The aim is to improve relations at a key European transport hub in an industry prone to disputes.

New collective agreement covers pay and dispute resolution

The new Industrial Relations Collective Agreement 2015–2019 has been agreed between the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and the Irish Municipal Public and Civil Trade Union (IMPACT). The IAA, a semi-state company, is an important service provider in the aviation sector, employing more than 600 people. It provides air traffic management and related services in Irish-controlled airspace, is responsible for the safety regulation of the civil aviation industry in Ireland, and has oversight of civil aviation security. 

The agreement, which covers almost 400 of the union’s members (290 air traffic controllers, 52 radio officers and 46 safety inspectors), includes:

  • four annual cost of living increases of 1.5%, worth 6% over the lifetime of the agreement;
  • new pay scales;
  • the establishment of the Internal Dispute Resolution Board (IDRB).

The IDRB will be chaired by Peter McLoone, former President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). The other members are also senior industrial relations professionals: Brendan McGinty, former Head of Human Resources and Industrial Relations at the employers’ group Ibec, and Dan Murphy, former General Secretary of the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU).

The board is similar to those in other Irish semi-state organisations, such as the Joint Industrial Council in the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) and the internal industrial relations tribunal in the state-owned national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE).

Origins of the agreement

During the recent economic crisis, the IAA offered new recruits less favourable pay and terms and conditions than existing staff. The union described the move at the time as a ‘smash and grab exercise’ that was not designed to recoup training costs, as the company had suggested, but to ‘attack terms and conditions of employment and drive down costs while at the same time reducing charges to the airlines’.

Mediation via third parties brought no solutions and the union’s air traffic control branch members voted for industrial action. However, in July 2014, both parties agreed to take part in a negotiation process facilitated by experienced independent mediator Joe McDermott. This resulted in the agreement that was accepted by both parties in 2015.

The union’s strategy

Explaining its approach of engagement rather than confrontation, the union told its members in the IAA that, in the absence of an agreement, its branches would have had ‘no alternative other than to embark on a course of industrial action’. Given the importance of the aviation sector to the Irish economy, the union said that, in the case of industrial action, intervention by the state’s dispute resolution agencies ‘would almost certainly occur’.

IMPACT’s Assistant General Secretary, Johnny Fox, further explained the thinking behind the union’s strategy, saying:

We know from other high profile disputes in Aer Lingus, CIE and indeed the public service that proposals to reduce the salaries of both existing and new employees have been upheld following interventions by both the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court in the context of the recent prevailing economic conditions. On this basis, the negotiating group took the view that any intervention in a dispute would result in more stringent measures being imposed in a manner whereby the union and the branches would have no control over the outcome.

Mr Fox stated that direct negotiations with the company would not only give the union some control, but would also yield better results.

The new salary scales

Under the agreement, there is a new 17-point incremental pay scale for air traffic controllers. New lower scales (over 3.5 years) will stay at the rate introduced in response to the economic crisis and will not return to the ‘pre-crisis’ starting point of €53,898. However, new entrants, while staying below the ‘old’ rate up to point 4 on the new scale, will then jump to the existing air traffic controllers’ rate of €60,734 at point 5. Thereafter, there is full harmonisation up to the current end point of €88,540.  The union states that this scale gives new members an opportunity to achieve career-average earnings close to those of existing staff over their full careers.

A new 17-point pay scale is also being introduced for radio officers. This will be achieved by introducing an additional incremental point at the top of the scale and reducing the current scales by two incremental points.

Reactions to the new agreement

Brendan Mulligan, the IAA’s Director of Human Resources, said the agreement would help the company deliver continuity of service, thanks to the new dispute resolution tribunal. On pay and conditions, he explained that while the new agreement provided for new pay scales and a cost of living increase, it also retained the lower entry salaries, meaning immediate cost savings for the company. In return, the IAA was able to provide assurances to the union about minimum staffing levels – protecting employment and safeguarding ongoing recruitment. Mr Mulligan stated that the agreement allowed the company to improve flexibility and achieve efficiencies, as well as substantially reducing the likelihood of an industrial dispute.

Mr Fox told union members that the agreement provides ‘certainty on salary movement, salary protection and incremental progression over the next four years and beyond’. He added that a reduction in the number of incremental scales will give the majority of members access to additional salary movement.

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