Thousands of aviation jobs could be permanently lost, says Fórsa

Airplane wings, representing airline pilots

Thousands of jobs dependent on aviation could be lost permanently unless the Government acts to support the sector though a second summer of inactivity caused by Covid-related travel restrictions, according to Fórsa.

In evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks today (Tuesday) the union said other European Governments had moved to protect airline and aviation jobs far more decisively than in Ireland.

The union called for enhanced industry-specific wage supports, easier access to mortgage payment breaks, and enhanced Government supports to the industry including a State-led stakeholder engagement to develop a survival plan for the sector.

In evidence to the Oireachtas Committee, senior Fórsa official Ashley Connolly acknowledged the contribution of State wage supports in the first 11 months of the crisis, but said Ireland continued to lack a European-style joined-up Government approach to underpin jobs, protect aviation infrastructure, and ensure the survival of a viable post-pandemic industry.

“This runs the risk that Irish aviation will be left behind when the rest of the world moves on, with potentially devastating implications for the national economy, connectivity and employment in the aviation and the sectors and communities that depend on it. Eleven months of pay cuts, lay-offs, redundancies and job insecurity – and continued uncertainty about the future – has put aviation workers and their families under massive strain. For many, the mortgage and other debt incurred during this period will be a burden for years,” she said.

Fórsa represents over 80,000 members, including around 5,000 workers in airlines, airports, air navigation bases, aviation regulatory bodies, and air traffic control.

In a written submission to the Committee, the union detailed the impact of the crisis in employments across the sector. These include redundancies (Cityjet), lay-offs (Stobart, Aer Lingus, Ryanair), and pay reductions/reduced working hours (Aer Lingus, Ryanair, IAA, DAA, and Shannon Airport Authority).

Fórsa told TDs and senators that Irish and European authorities had acknowledged Dublin airport as the hardest-hit of any in Europe. Meanwhile, traffic at Cork airport is down 75% and Shannon faces permanent decline, with irreversible economic consequences for the Mid-West region.

Ms Connolly said aviation needed a flexible, industry-specific income support scheme for this phase of the aviation crisis.

“There is a strong risk that the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), as currently constructed, will lack the flexibility required to underpin employment relationships in the sector – and this is essential if we are to position the industry to bounce back post-Covid. Fórsa is proposing an aviation income support scheme similar to that in place in Germany, which enables employers to reduce hours rather than laying staff off, with Government income support for the time employees can’t work,” she said.

The union also wants the Central Bank to adopt European Banking Authority (EBA) guidelines for the extension of mortgage payment breaks. “The European guidelines do not currently apply in Ireland, where the application process is slow and onerous. After 11 months of income reductions, and no early sight of recovery, this is placing avoidable strain on workers,” said Ms Connolly.

Fórsa said State support to airlines and other aviation companies must be contingent on the avoidance of compulsory redundancies and offshoring of Irish aviation jobs.

Read Fórsa’s 9th February 2021 submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks HERE.