Aer Lingus catering workers on the picket line

Catering workers in Aer Lingus were forced into unofficial action for four days in early April. As we reported in December, catering workers were faced with the introduction of a new outsourced sandwich service which would ultimately have the effect of doing away with their jobs. They resisted then and the company agreed to talks about the issue. The union agreed to suspend the ballot on industrial action which was being conducted at the time but to re-activate it if necessary.

Last Tuesday, another new product was introduced without discussion and workers refused to handle it. The workers complained that the SIPTU official was contacted by the company, who accused the workers of breaking agreements, and this official simply accepted the management's version of events without bothering to consult the workers involved. Threats of suspensions for refusing to handle the product led to a walkout by all the catering staff in the area.

Pickets were placed on the catering area and management attempted to take over the workers' jobs. Pressure was exerted by SIPTU officials, who claimed that the pickets were jeopardising Ryanair workers, who would be sacked if they failed to pass the pickets. The Aer Lingus picketers explained that they were not putting pressure on anyone, and would in fact be urging the Ryanair people to pass them because they were sympathetic to their situation. After four days, the pickets were withdrawn pending discussion of the issue, and a formal ballot for industrial action will be conducted as soon as possible.

Shop stewards in Aer Lingus Catering have learned much from their action. They believe that the problem with their picket was not so much that it was unofficial but that they themselves were fairly inexperienced and didn't have time to prepare properly for a dispute. They and the workers they represent now have the confidence to take on the top management who did their jobs while they were on the picket line.

Despite their inexperience they stopped anything moving in the catering area and were given a lot of support by workers in other areas. If their ballot gives a majority for industrial action, as the shop stewards are sure it will, they will be ready to defend their jobs and conditions in the face of anything that management, or their union officials, might attempt to throw at them.

Clare Daly

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