‘Joined-up’ approach essential to saving Irish aviation – Fórsa

Union urges continuing Government support for industry should be on strict conditions of no compulsory redundancies or offshoring of services.
Fórsa warns state support for aviation probably necessary for the next number of years

Fórsa trade union, which represents several thousand aviation workers in airports, regulatory bodies, international air traffic support and airlines, has said a joined-up government approach is needed to ensuring the survival of Ireland’s aviation industry. The union says staff support schemes need to be retained and measures such as affordable pre-departure Covid testing need to be explored.

The union’s deputy general secretary Matt Staunton made the comments during his address to the Oireachtas joint committee on Transport and Communications Networks today (Thursday). He told the committee any state support for the aviation industry must be on the condition of no compulsory redundancies or offshoring of services.

Matt said Irish aviation is at risk of being left behind while the rest of the world moves on, with potentially very serious implications for the national economy and 140,000 quality aviation jobs, in addition to industries and local economies that rely directly on the industry, including 330 thousand jobs in hospitality.

Today, there is a very real possibility that aviation will be one of the last industries to emerge from the current crisis.

He said Ireland’s integration into the EU traffic-light system for international travel this week marked a first step in terms of preparedness, and said the commencement of pre-departure Covid testing for passengers flying out of Irish airports is a welcome development: “However, with a cost per passenger starting at €149 per test, this may inhibit any real progress, as it presents a significant cost barrier to people weighing up their travel plans.”

Matt cited the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation’s report that the Irish aviation sector has experienced a larger decline than anywhere else in Europe, and acknowledged both the €80m state funding package for the aviation sector and ongoing state-funded wage supports for the airline industry.

“The state’s significant financial support, which has allowed aviation employers to retain staff on payroll, has also been crucial to safeguarding the industry’s state of readiness for recovery.

“These are important measures, and I would love to be able to say they are enough, but the importance of the aviation industry to Ireland’s economy demands that a great deal more intervention is probably going to be necessary for the next number of years,” he said.

Matt said that despite greater optimism this week that an end to the Covid crisis is in sight, aviation workers continue face the prospect of prolonged reductions to working hours and pay, increased risk of temporary layoffs, and an uncertain future while struggling to pay rent, mortgages and other bills.

He added: “Fórsa’s mission since the pandemic struck has been to work closely with all aviation employers to maximise job protection. Success in this mission is only possible through significant and continuing Government support and intervention.

“The situation for aviation is getting worse, not better, during this latest phase of tackling the pandemic. We are all stakeholders in this industry and we cannot afford not to act.

“While the existing supports are helping, the absence of a coherent, comprehensive plan, developed in partnership will all stakeholders, betrays a lack of joined-up thinking, which is reflected in the phases of piecemeal funding so far, an approach which generates uncertainty. We can ill afford to continue like this.

“The Government must create all the supports necessary to ensure Ireland’s aviation industry can withstand the current crisis and continue to play its crucial role in supporting the Irish economy,” he said.

Matt said that despite greater optimism this week that an end to the Covid crisis is in sight, aviation workers continue face the prospect of prolonged reductions to working hours and pay, increased risk of temporary layoffs, and an uncertain future while struggling to pay rent, mortgages and other bills.

Matt said Ireland’s status as a major force in worldwide aviation is under threat: “We have a higher citizen aviation travel rate than any other EU member state, while our connectivity to the rest of the world plays a crucial role in attracting inward investment.

“It is therefore crucial that we act, collectively, to ensure that the industry not only survives the impact of this current crisis, but is in a fit state to perform robustly as safe international travel resumes, and to guard against the offshoring of work currently delivered by Irish workers,” he said.

Matt told the committee: “When restrictions on movement were first introduced in March, nobody quite foresaw the sustained effect the pandemic would have on the industry.

“A short, sharp shock was considered a best-case scenario. Eight months on, commercial air traffic activity continues to operate below 20% of capacity.

“Irish aviation was one of the first industries to recover from the 2008 economic crisis. If we take, as a guide, the numbers travelling through Dublin Airport, it took seven years to recover from the impact of that crisis.

“Today, there is a very real possibility that aviation will be one of the last industries to emerge from the current crisis,” he said.

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