Seanad debates

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

7:00 pm

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I wish to share one minute with Senator Dominic Hannigan.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The news that SR Technics is to close with the loss of approximately 1,200 permanent jobs is a shocking blow to the workers involved and their families. Many have given a lifetime's work to this company in all its guises from Aer Lingus to Team Aer Lingus to FLS to SR Technics. I know many of the workers personally and over the years they have provided a lot of change and sacrificed many pay rounds to keep the company competitive and among the most successful in the aeronautics industry.

The notice period of only 30 days for workers who have given so much service and commitment is shameful. Like many of the workers, I believe that something should have been done at an earlier stage by the Government and State agencies to try to save as many jobs as possible. This did not just creep up; there were many signs during the past couple of years of pending problems. The decision by Aer Lingus to pull contracts from SR Technics was significant. The proposed closure of the company is a knock-on effect of the mistaken decision by the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats Government to privatise Aer Lingus. I understand that the cost savings sought by Aer Lingus through allocation of contracts to Sabena Technics in France have not been realised, with reported ongoing delays in planes being turned around. Time is money in this business. I would like to see the figures in this regard.

When I heard that the chief executive of the company met the Tánaiste on Wednesday night and that meetings with the unions and the general body of workers were planned for Thursday morning, I feared the worst. However, many workers interviewed by RTE when going to work on Thursday morning seemed more optimistic. While many thought redundancies or pay cuts might be on the cards no one, according to a constituent who attended my clinic on Saturday morning, expected closure. Unfortunately, the news turned out to be as bad as it could be and the loss of 1,135 jobs was announced. A short ten minute statement was made to that effect and no opportunity was given to ask questions.

The unilateral decision of the company, taken without any consultation with the workers and their unions, to close the company with the loss of so many highly skilled jobs, will affect not only the families of those involved but the economy of north and west Dublin and the nation as a whole at a time when jobs are haemorrhaging at a phenomenal rate. Dublin Airport is the economic dynamo of the northside of Dublin and further afield and the loss of this number of jobs will be a massive body blow.

It was reported in the media that the Tánaiste met SR Technics senior management on the Wednesday evening. Perhaps the Minister of State will say whether she had been in discussion with the company before then. When job losses at Dell were announced, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea, were prepared to go to great lengths to save jobs at that company, travelling to Texas at a cost of €164,000. There appears not to have been any comparable urgency to try to save jobs at SR Technics. Why is this? Is it that jobs in Dublin Airport are less important than jobs in Dell? In terms of scale, the loss at SR Technics is approximately 60% of those lost at Dell. What efforts did the Tánaiste make to have the announcement postponed to allow for engagement with the workforce to see if anything could be done to reduce costs and save the jobs?

Aer Lingus recently agreed to engage with its unions and successfully came up with cost saving measures which gave the company the savings it required. Why could SR Technics not engage with its workforce in a similar fashion? I would appreciate a response from the Minister of State in regard to whether the Tánaiste proposed that the company be sold. Now that the loss of jobs has been announced, what steps does the Tánaiste intend to take to bring pressure to bear on the company to engage with the workforce to save jobs? Does she intend to up her game and join the workforce in their efforts to fight for the survival of the operation in Ireland? Every effort must be made, even at this late stage, to come up with a survival plan.

If this closure goes ahead, the industry will be lost forever and a day and replacement jobs will not be easily found for the highly skilled technical workers employed at Dublin Airport. The Government must now enter into discussions with all the Dublin Airport stakeholders, the Dublin Airport Authority, Aer Lingus, Ryanair and SR Technics, to consider how these jobs can be saved given the ongoing need for aircraft maintenance, the skills of the employees and the fact that Dublin is the service provider of choice for several customers, including SAS. The Easijet business is going to Zurich, which is more expensive than Dublin. Dublin Airport Authority owns the buildings concerned on which rental or lease income could be foregone for a period. Creative measures such as this are required and are capable of being arrived at.

The cost to the State of each job lost has been estimated at €20,000 per annum. The cost per annum in respect of these 1,135 job losses will be €2.27 million. The Tánaiste must engage in an urgent and meaningful way to save these jobs. The workforce of SR Technics is highly skilled and highly flexible and must be supported.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)
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I thank Senator Ryan for allowing me to speak briefly on this issue. This is a matter that affects people and families not alone in Dublin but throughout the north east, including Louth, Meath and Kildare. Some 1,200 jobs have been lost which, as anyone can imagine, is devastating for the families concerned. This company is leaving our shores, a company that has received world recognition and is renowned in terms of its skills.

It is important that while the consultation process is ongoing the EASA 145 operating licence for SR Technics remains in place and that the Minister refuses to remove it. All test cells and other equipment currently being used at SR Technics must be retained during the consultation process. This will ensure we have a chance of retaining an operation at the base. I ask that the Minister of State pass on that message to the Tánaiste and impress upon her the need to ensure that as many jobs as possible are retained at SR Technics.

Photo of Jimmy DevinsJimmy Devins (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators Ryan and Hannigan for raising this matter on the Adjournment, which I take on behalf of the Tánaiste.

It is with deep regret that the Government has learned of the closure of the SR Technics operation at Dublin Airport. The company's operation in Cork, which employs approximately 200 persons, remains unaffected.

The Tánaiste, with the Secretary General of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the chief executive officer of IDA Ireland, met the company on 11 February. I should add that a number of meetings took place between the State, its agencies and the company in the past year. The company explained that it had been exploring all options for its Dublin operations, including sale to another party. Unfortunately, it was not possible to proceed with any of those options.

The company explained the global deterioration that had taken place in its business since mid-2008, with contracts moving to Eastern Europe, Jordan, Turkey and Malta. It confirmed that it was putting in place a five-year restructuring plan and that it had already reduced its worldwide workforce by 500 in the past year. The company stated that the recent loss of major contracts, current business and economic forecasts and the high cost base and over-capacity at Dublin airport made it impossible to continue a sustainable business in Dublin.

SR Technics provides line maintenance for the Aer Lingus fleet at its Dublin base. This is a long-term contract awarded by Aer Lingus in 2008 following a competitive procurement process. The company has indicated that it hopes to assign this and other smaller operations to another operator which offers the potential of saving up to 200 jobs. Pending the outcome of negotiations on this issue the company could not give the Tánaiste a definitive figure on the actual number of jobs likely to be saved. However, SR Technics will itself continue the line maintenance operations for the present.

IDA Ireland has had an ongoing relationship with the company over many years and approved a significant training grant package for the company in 2006 to assist the company in maximising efficiencies and improving competitiveness. IDA Ireland also had discussions with the company in regard to its business plan and further opportunities to assist the company with additional financial incentives such as research and development support, with the emphasis on innovation and process development.

FÁS has been at the forefront in providing intervention and support to employees who have been made redundant or who are facing redundancy. FÁS is currently in contact with SR Technics management to discuss the services available from FÁS and the potential needs of the employees. Each response will be tailored on a case by case basis. FÁS's services to business unit will also be involved in these consultations. During this consultation, FÁS will establish the skills profile of the workforce, the years of service and experience of employees, the level of education and any other relevant information.

It is important to establish how best FÁS can assist the workers. Following this initial contact, a judgment will be made in regard to the level of FÁS intervention required. FÁS employment services officers will conduct one-to-one registration and guidance interviews with staff and the full range of FÁS services will be explained and made available to them, such as CV preparation, interview techniques, information on job vacancies notified to FÁS, the Jobs lreland web-based services, the national contact centre, information on training programmes and jobs clubs.

The State development agencies will work together to take the appropriate actions to support the workers in finding new employment, including assistance to re-skill and re-train to enhance their future employment potential.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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That response suggests the Government has given up on this matter and it is now only about getting people sorted out with CVs. This is not good enough. We must battle on with this issue. There is a strategic industry which will potentially be lost to this country forever. This industry brings €50 million to €80 million of foreign money into this country annually, which is badly needed by the Exchequer at this time. The Minister of State should bring back the message to the Minister that she cannot give up on this industry in the way that is outlined in the Minister of State's reply.