Runway Debate Continues & Airport Tensions Rise

WaterfordAirportArialThe allocation of millions of euro in funding to extend the runway at Waterford Airport is dependent on management presenting a ‘cohesive business plan’ that indicates the future viability of the airport, according to Minister of State John Halligan (Ind).
City and County Council Manager Michael Walsh and Airport Chairman Dan Browne travelled to Dublin last Thursday to meet with Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Minister Halligan.
The meeting had originally been scheduled to take place at Waterford Airport but was relocated to Dublin as both Ross and Halligan were unwilling to pass the picket line which began at the airport on Wednesday. Twelve ground staff and fire fighters launched the industrial action after their weekly hours were cut from 39 to 21 without agreement, following the loss of the airport’s single carrier, VLM Airlines, in May.
Minister Halligan described the Dublin meeting as “extremely constructive”.
He added: “The airport board has been asked to come back to Minister Ross with a cohesive business plan showing that it could attract 100-seater jet planes to the airport, if the runway was extended. They are optimistic that this can be achieved and also reasonably confident that a new carrier can be attracted to Waterford in the interim.”
Meanwhile Waterford Airport has confirmed that it had had initial contact from the Workplace Relations Commission about the possibility of entering into talks with regard to the current dispute.
A spokesperson said the Airport is “available and willing” to engage in talks in an effort to resolve the dispute. However trade union Unite, which represents the twelve striking ground staff and fire fighters, said it had not yet been contacted by the WRC.
Unite has called on Airport management to confirm or deny whether they are recruiting ‘strike-breakers’.
Regional Officer Tony Kelly said he has received information that management are seeking to undermine the industrial action by recruiting ground workers from elsewhere.
“In light of management’s decision to unilaterally cut workers’ hours and their ongoing refusal to engage meaningfully to find a way forward for the airport, our members had no option but to take the strike action”, Mr Kelly commented.
“I am now calling on the Airport’s management to make a public statement confirming or denying whether this is the case. Any attempt by Waterford Regional Airport to recruit strike-breakers would represent a very serious escalation of this dispute.”
Tensions are mounting at Waterford Airport in a dispute which has seen 12 ground staff and firefighters take to the picket line over a reduction in their weekly hours from 39 to 21, without agreement.
While Unite, the trade union representing the 12 workers, claims airport management are attempting to recruit ‘strike-breakers’ from Donegal Airport, management has paid tribute to the remaining employees for their part in providing emergency cover to ensure the Waterford Airport Coast Guard helicopter continues to operate.
The 12 striking workers say they’ve been overwhelmed with the level of support being shown on the picket line from both politicians and members of the public since their protest began last Wednesday morning. Regional Officer for Unite Tony Kelly said the strike, which will be of indefinite duration, follows management’s decision to slash workers’ hours from 39 to 21 hours per week without agreement, coupled with their refusal to allow workers into their place of work to work their currently agreed rosters – a move which Kelly described as “tantamount to a lockout”.
The striking workers are furious that management and supervisors were not asked to take similar cuts. And, after several days on the picket line, they had reiterated their statement that no vehicle – especially those involved in the emergency services – will be blocked entering or exiting the airport.
“Management can resolve this dispute immediately by reversing their unilateral decision to slash workers’ hours, allowing our members back in to work, and engaging meaningfully with Unite on a way forward for Waterford Regional Airport,” Mr Kelly concluded.
Airport management expressed their ‘surprise and disappointment over the industrial action, adding that the cut in hours for staff was necessitated because the airport’s revenues had fallen sharply since VLM Airlines discontinued scheduled passenger services on the Waterford-London Luton route. The withdrawal of the route led to a very significant loss of work available at the airport.
Management has also paid tribute to its non-striking employees, who supported three launches of the Coast Guard helicopter on essential emergency and life-saving missions last weekend.
“Waterford is the second busiest search-and-rescue (SAR) base in Ireland and the fire officers and others who report for duty as normal during the current industrial dispute continue to provide a vital public service for the whole community and for the entire
South East region,” a spokesperson noted.
“We understand that it is difficult for our employees who are coming to work in the current circumstances. They are due a great debt of gratitude by the public for supporting the Coast Guard emergency services based at the airport.”

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