Irish MPs denounce cunning Aer Lingus over secret HR plan

Politicians in Ireland have censured state airline Aer Lingus for formulating an HR plan to ‘encourage’ more than 1,000 voluntary redundancies.

The 30-page secret document, leaked to the media, listed 12 ‘environmental push factors’ to encourage staff to volunteer for redundancy.

These included the introduction of family unfriendly shift patterns, tedious training programmes, tacky uniforms for cabin crew and a tap on the shoulder for some staff, who were to be told they had no future with the company.

At a parliamentary committee meeting last week, politicians from all parties denounced the HR plan, with chairman John Ellis calling it “a shocking indictment of management practice”.

Trade and enterprise minister, Michael Martin, described it as “juvenile and poor HR practice” and said he had ordered an investigation to see if it breached labour laws, including legislation about workplace bullying.

The disclosure of the plan, labelled ‘departure-gate’, has turned into a PR disaster for Aer Lingus, leaving staff hostile and suspicious, angering the main shareholder, and embarrassing major Irish businesses planning similar job cuts.

The airline has confirmed to trade unions that the document was prepared by a five-person team led by Liz White, head of HR. It was then presented to three senior Aer Lingus executives, including the then chief executive, Willie Walsh, soon to take over as boss of British Airways.

Aer Lingus chairman John Sharman has apologised to staff for the language used in the document, but denied to a parliamentary committee that the airline would ever implement a policy of “making life difficult” for employees.

However, union leaders disagree, claiming they have evidence that members have been pressured to quit their jobs and that 30 pilots had filed complaints of bullying against the airline in the past year.

Incoming chief executive Dermot Mannion, who takes up his post next week, has been left to pick up the pieces.

For the Irish government, the worry is that staff anger about the affair will frustrate its plans for a part-privatisation of Aer Lingus and poison industrial relations at the airline for the foreseeable future.

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