N2S2PicTwelve ground staff and fire fighters at Waterford Airport have voted for industrial action, following a decision to cut their working hours from 39 to 21 per week and what they say was an ‘effective lock-out’ by management on Monday morning.
The workers were told last week that short-time working hours would be introduced on Monday, following the withdrawal by Belgian-based VLM Airlines of the airport’s sole route, to London. Workers argued that they were entitled to a month’s notice to any change in their working terms and claim the cuts did not apply to the airport’s five managers, while the three supervisors had their hours cut by around five per cent.
An email was sent to staff last Friday informing them that they would not be given access to the airside of the facility unless they were scheduled to work on Monday on the new, reduced roster. The affected staff who turned up for work as per usual from 7am on Monday morning could not get access beyond the public waiting area of the airport.
One worker told The Munster Express that the ground staff, who are also fully-qualified fire fighters, acknowledged that cuts had to be made but could not understand why management were being kept on full-time, when they were losing around 46 per cent of their working week.
These workers regained their full-time status last year, after over two years of working on a week on/week off basis when Aer Arann withdrew from the airport.
Waterford Airport acts as a base for the Irish Coastguard’s Search & Rescue operations and is used as an aircraft servicing and training facility by CHC, the Coast Guard’s operating company. But the workers are concerned that this could also be jeopardised by the new working arrangements.
Trade union Unite, which represents the twelve affected workers, will announce on Tuesday what form the industrial action at the airport will take. Unite Regional Officer Tony Kelly has called for an immediate reversal to the short-time working.
“The closure of VLM has been a blow not only to Waterford Airport but to the economy of the South-East. Management’s focus now must be on attracting an alternative carrier to service the crucial Waterford-London route, rather than unilaterally slashing workers’ hours. Management has made a bad situation worse by refusing to allow workers onto the airport premises, in a move which our members regard as an effective lock-out.”
Shortly before we went to press, Waterford Airport issued a statement saying it “engaged with all staff and their representatives with a view to reducing hours of work for an interim period of time”.
“In the current circumstances, it cannot sustain full working hours for all staff when aviation activity has fallen sharply and there is far less work in the absence of scheduled passenger services”, the statement continued.
“Waterford Airport has previously implemented short-time working in similar circumstances. The majority of staff accept and understand the requirement for reduced hours at this time, as the Airport seeks alternative business and we thank them for their support and commitment.
“Short-time working is part of a wider range of cost-cutting measures designed to ensure the Airport’s continued viability. These measures have impacted on all staff, including management as well as the staff who have already been laid off.
“The union were advised that staff would only be paid for their rostered hours. However, a number of staff presented for work today (Monday) despite not being rostered. These non-rostered staff were not permitted access to certain areas of the Airport due to health and safety and insurance implications. The Airport continues to work intensively for a replacement airline, and at the same time remains open for business.”