Northern Ireland travellers were today warned they could be facing a winter of disruption after it emerged that Aer Lingus employees are to be balloted on widespread strike action.
The bad news comes after the Irish airline dramatically announced a major £57m cost-saving exercise which threatens up to 1,500 jobs and also involves significant outsourcing.
Trade union Siptu has said it will ballot workers for “all-out industrial action” — including complete work stoppages — which means that hundreds of flights from Belfast International Airport could be in jeopardy over the coming months.
Currently, the former state carrier serves ten destinations from its base here, including Heathrow, Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Amsterdam.
The major cost-cutting plan, which has a strict deadline of December 1, includes the outsourcing of more than a quarter of the workforce, the closure of cabin-crew bases in Shannon and Heathrow, and the hiring of US crews on transatlantic routes, but it is believed the company's hub at Aldergrove will not be affected.
It is, however, understood that Aer Lingus is to invite tenders from staff contractors, including Menzies which it uses in Belfast and London, and Servisair, which runs ground-handling operations in 140 airports.
Although major cost cuts were expected, union officials were stunned by the scale of the cuts, which were outlined during a tense meeting with management yesterday.
Siptu national industrial secretary Gerry McCormack said that nobody in the company “would emerge unscathed from this exercise”.
"It represents a fire-sale of good quality jobs by a management that can see no further than the next quarter's profit and loss sheet," he added.
Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion said a "very aggressive and radical cost-cutting plan" was crucial to ensure the "future viability" of the airline, which suffered €22m losses in the first half of the year.
The airline is seeking to make annual savings of €74m (£57m).
It hopes to achieve this by:
- Saving €50m in staff and related costs. These include outsourcing 1,500 jobs in ground operations at Dublin Airport, Cork Airport and Shannon Airport; closing cabin-crew bases at Shannon and Heathrow; offering a limited staff redeployment in Dublin.
- Enforcing a pay freeze until at least the end of 2009.
- Moving all head office and support staff to merit and performance-based contracts; moving head office to a smaller open-plan facility.
- Shaving €14m off advertising, distribution costs, airport charges and professional fees.
- Taking €10m off the cost of the long-haul fleet by reducing planes from nine to eight.