The actions of Aer Lingus today are truly appalling.
Reports suggest that not only has the company issued proceedings against SIPTU but also against named employees of the union. This is a despicable act of corporate bullying. It entirely undermines the right to collective bargaining, the rights of organised labour, and indeed the right to withdraw labour in an industrial dispute. The implications go well beyond the Aer Lingus pension dispute.
But on that dispute, Aer Lingus is disgracefully seeking to walk away from the pension promises it gave to its current and former employees, and it is primarily Aer Lingus which needs to deal with this by honouring their pension commitments to their staff.
The Government also needs to play its part. It had an opportunity to deal with such issues and to stop employers simply walking away from their pension promises when it brought forward pension legislation late last year – the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act. But the Minister for Social Protection refused to provide any protection to workers in these circumstances . This has sown the seeds for many more protracted industrial and legal disputes between companies and their employees. Aer Lingus is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Government needs to make clear whether it was consulted about this action prior to it being taken and if, as a major shareholder, it did anything at all to stop it. It needs to make it clear to Aer Lingus that, as a major shareholder, it is unacceptable for a company to sue a union and their employees over its role in a legitimate industrial dispute.
This heavy-handed approach by Aer Lingus will be a PR disaster for the company, but it also raises serious questions for the Labour Party. If the Labour Party can’t stand up to the kind of action engaged in by Aer Lingus, then what is the point of it being in Government?