Tuesday, 21 June 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
Proinsias De Rossa: asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, in view of the serious crisis facing TEAM Aer Lingus following the decision of the craft workers to reject the limited proposals put forward, if he will request the Labour Relations Commission to continue to seek a solution and if, pending receipt of such solution, he will request the company to suspend the lay-off of staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Hogan: asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the new initiative, if any, he intends to pursue with management and staff at TEAM Aer Lingus to resolve the present industrial dispute.
Mrs. Owen: asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the contingency plan he has, if any, in the event of agreement not being reached between the unions and management in TEAM Aer Lingus and the subsequent lay-off of 850 people.
On Thursday last I explained to the House in some detail the gravity of the crisis facing TEAM Aer Lingus. I noted from the contributions of Deputies from all parties that there was a broad consensus in the House, as indeed there is outside the House, on the seriousness of the financial crisis facing TEAM. The key facts, however, bear repeating.
TEAM is insolvent and its ability to continue to pay wages is totally dependent on contributions from the scarce net income of Aer Lingus airline operations. This net income is being generated thanks to the sacrifices and adjustments made by Aer Lingus staff in their efforts to turn around the airline. TEAM, which is now in such chronic deficit, cannot continue to be such a dangerous cash drain on the airline. The cash haemorrhage average of £1 million a month during the busy maintenance months of winter will grow dramatically over the leaner summer months.
Detailed negotiations on this dispute have been going on since September 1993. The company's financial situation is progressively deteriorating to such an extent that these negotiations must stop now. It is decision time for the survival of the company.
As I said in the Dáil on Thursday last and as I re-emphasise now, time and money have run out. It was against this backdrop that my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, called officials from the Irish Business and Employers Confederation and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to meet both management and unions two weeks ago. Having been briefed by the senior officials from IBEC and ICTU the Minister for Enterprise and Employment on Wednesday 8 June requested the Labour Relations Commission to conduct an inquiry into the dispute under the section 38 (2) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. This was the first time that this exceptional measure was invoked and underlined the gravity and urgency of the TEAM crisis.
The Labour Relations Commission  furnished its report to the Minister for Enterprise and Employment on Tuesday 14 June and informed him that during its investigation the parties gave no indication of an ability to recognise and discuss a common agenda that would lead to an agreed survival plan. The commission, mindful of the perilous situation of the company and with a view towards maintaining the employment of the TEAM workforce and industrial peace, therefore made final settlement terms for acceptance by all parties.
The company, although it did not receive all it sought from the Labour Relations Commission, accepted the Labour Relations Commission's final settlement terms. I would plead with the trade unions in TEAM to do likewise. We must save this company now. We can discuss how to develop it later. If we do not take immediate action, TEAM Aer Lingus's market share will continue to erode to the point where it will run out of business. It is in a fiercely competitive market with both national and international firms who continually adapt their cost bases to survive. TEAM Aer Lingus must do likewise now.
There are two problems which must be addressed: first we must save TEAM Aer Lingus and second we must develop it. The LRC settlement proposals recognise this and specifically in clause 24 provide a forum to do so. Clause 24 states:
The potential of the plan produced by the Craft Union Group to make significant contributions to the efficiency of the organisation and the development of its business must be acknowledged. The parties to establish immediately a joint non-negotiating forum whose major initial task it will be to examine in detail the practicalities of adoption of the plans and to set a course for putting into place those strategies which can make a contribution to the future of the Company.
Every possible industrial relations initiative has already been taken and processes have been fully utilised in this dispute. Even the exceptional measure of section  38 (2) of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act has been invoked. I do not believe that anything further can be achieved by referring the matter back to the Labour Relations Commission or any other forum which by definition would have a lesser standing than the LRC. Indeed the Labour Relations Commission was only able to react with the speed and the professionalism which it did because of its detailed knowledge of the Aer Lingus and TEAM problems arising from its continuous intervention for the past 18 months or so.
It is my personal desire and that of the Government that TEAM Aer Lingus should have not only an immediate future but also medium and long term prospects and that as many jobs as possible be maintained. For that reason my Department on my specific instructions invited TEAM employee representatives to read the full LRC report last Friday. I wished to ensure that there were no obstacles in the way of a full acceptance of the LRC settlement terms. I regret that the craft unions have not found it possible so far to accept these terms. I am appealing to them again at this late stage to reconsider their position and to avoid the unfortunate logic of their own stance. Lay-offs are avoidable if they are prepared to indicate that they can accept the LRC terms as a necessary first step to address the immediate cash haemorrhage from the company and establish TEAM as a competitive player in the world's aircraft maintenance business.
Mr. R. Bruton: I realise that we are on the brink of a very serious crisis considering the scale of threatened lay-offs. I would like the Minister to confirm that TEAM Aer Lingus can be a viable company. Does he recognise that confidence between unions and management of this company is extraordinarily low? Would he accept that the logical implication is that he must make superhuman efforts to bridge the confidence gap? Would he agree that the “all or nothing” stance which he and the Government have taken to the Labour Relations Commission report is in conflict with its guidelines  for the resolution of strikes in essential services where “all or nothing” is never part of the agreed vocabulary? Surely with all the negotiating skills at the disposal of the Government, the Minister can create a forum that would avert 850 lay-offs, which would have implications for the whole aviation industry.
Mr. Cowen: TEAM Aer Lingus can be a viable company in the future if the settlement terms as outlined are accepted by all the parties. It would be wrong of Deputy Bruton to suggest that the Labour Relations Commission has adopted an extreme position. It has tried to arbitrate on the entrenched positions of both sides and has presented a very finely measured set of settlement terms which, if accepted by all parties, will enable the company proceed to the wider issues that need to be addressed to maintain its long term viability.
There is a need for mutual confidence between management and unions. I agree that the relationship between management and unions is not what one would like but that is a matter that must be resolved. Steps have been taken at managerial level to improve relations, a change of management has taken place and the process will continue.
Let me emphasise that I am seeking to make the facts known. There is no question of brinkmanship or trying to play around with the jobs at stake. At this stage a positive decision needs to be taken on the final settlement terms to ensure that the company is viable. The Labour Relations Commission pointed out “mindful of the perilous position of the company and in the interests of maintaining employment in TEAM Aer Lingus” it put forward final settlement terms for acceptance by everybody. Certainly its terms would not have been the preferred option of either management or unions but, given where we are now, the common sense approach is to accept the final settlement terms and under clause 24 to move on to a non-negotiating forum to discuss the wider issues. It is acknowledged that the potential of plans drawn up by workers could be dealt with  in that forum. This is the best and only way forward.
Proinsias De Rossa: The Minister repeatedly states he is not in the business of brinkmanship yet he says the Labour Relations Commission's proposals are the final settlement proposals that must be accepted or inevitably the shutdown of the company will follow. Surely he must agree that his stance is brinkmanship? Given the oft repeated statements by workers, Members and the Minister that the company ought to be saved, the Minister, as the representative of the shareholders, should intervene directly to bring both sides together to find a rational solution to this problem and this is the only forum superior to the Labour Relations Commission.
Mr. Cowen: I reject the Deputy's assertion that I am involved in brinkmanship. That is far from the case. I have pointed out on numerous occasions in this House and at committee meetings the developing perilous situation and its inevitable consequences at TEAM Aer Lingus because of the fact there was no work available and cash was running out. I have been making that point as clearly as I possibly can, as I did last Thursday when answering questions so that no one would be under any misapprehension of the gravity of the situation. The words “final settlement terms” were used by the Labour Relations Commission, the people with the expertise who have been dealing with the overall situation in Aer Lingus for up to 18 months. The Labour Relations Commission, which has been asked to arbitrate under the exceptional measure of section 38 (2) is saying that acceptance of the final settlement terms by all parties is needed to restore viability and regain competitiveness in a very competitive market.
Those are the facts and no amount of discussion will change the reality. That must be grasped by all parties. The Government has accepted the reality and has backed the Labour Relations Commission's final settlement terms. Management, which has not got what it sought  in its submission to the Labour Relations Commission, has accepted those terms, although it would probably prefer others, and it is now down to the workers to accept the final settlement terms. Nonacceptance has the unfortunate consequences that Deputies are mentioning because the enterprise is neither viable nor competitive as it stands.
We have discussed Aer Lingus on many occasions since the crisis arose and we are all aware that sacrifices have been made by all in the airline group to bring about the recovery of the company. TEAM is being bankrolled from the scarce net income of the Aer Lingus airline group which cannot afford to continue to do that for any length. The position cannot continue indefinitely. The facts are in the public domain and I set them out in a responsible way last Thursday so that people could understand the gravity of the situation. That has been my motivation. As I said in my reply, the collective expertise of the Labour Relations Commission has come forward with final settlement terms and the common sense approach appears to be that all parties, in the knowledge that no party is getting what it wants, would accept them in the interests of saving the company and that the future development and strategy of the company could be worked out in a non-negotiating forum. I agree that there should be a greater level of real participation by the workforce, but in the meantime the financial crisis in TEAM is being bankrolled by the airline group which cannot continue to do so because it is trying to recover.
There is no hidden agenda and I am pleading with all parties to accept the final settlement terms of the Commission as it offers the only visible way forward. All other issues, including the potential of plans drawn up by workers which the Labour Relations Commission acknowledges in its final settlement terms, should be raised in a non-negotiating forum during efforts to seek to develop strategies for the future. What is clear is that unless the final settlement terms of the  Labour Relations Commission are accepted the future competitiveness of TEAM Aer Lingus cannot be achieved. I ask that common sense prevail. While I deeply regret the position taken by the unions I believe that we must accept the gravity of the situation and make the necessary decisions to secure the future viability of TEAM Aer Lingus.
Mr. S. Ryan: As a Deputy in the constituency where the company is based I am very aware of the difficulty in the constituency and in Dublin generally. We have to accept that even the most reasonable worker sees the Labour Relations Commission document as an imposed solution. As a former Minister for Labour, would the Minister agree that from the industrial relations aspect it would be more difficult to secure a resolution should a lock-out or a dispute take place? Before things go over the cliff I suggest that we use the office of the Minister and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to appeal to both parties to come together and look at the possibilities. Having consulted with union representatives this afternoon I am aware that they want their proposals to be accepted, quantified and put into operation because over the years management has let them down. They believe their plan has not been considered adequately and I am appealing for time to have it taken on board. The collective wisdom of management and workers can secure the future of the company. I appeal to the Minister to consider using ICTU to bring both parties together.
Mr. Cowen: I share Deputy Ryan's concern and the concern of many other Deputies and Senators from the constituency who have spoken to me regarding this matter. It would be wrong to say that a full opportunity has not been given to the two parties concerned at the LRC to put their case. A full opportunity has been given. The referral, an exceptional measure which showed the seriousness with which my colleague, Minister Quinn, dealt with the matter, was an attempt to deal with it following IBEC's  and ICTU's consideration from both sides of the fence and their reporting to the Minister. From this a decision came to refer under section 38 (2). ICTU has been involved thus far and has sought over many months to find a solution to the problem. Having consulted with them and IBEC the matter was referred, under section 38 (2), to the LRC for a report. The LRC said this was the only way forward it could find. A full opportunity was given to both parties at that hearing to put their cases together.
The LRC, which is very experienced in this whole area, concluded that it was not possible, despite the most recent conciliation talks between the parties on Monday, 6 June in the LRC, and the involvement of IBEC and ICTU, to obtain a basis for the commencement of realistic negotiations and that the parties' positions remained entrenched. It stated that during the investigation a similar position pertained as the parties gave no indication of an ability to recognise and discuss a common agenda that would lead to an agreed survival plan. The commission, mindful of the perilous situation facing the company and with a view towards maintaining the employment of the workforce and industrial peace, made the final settlement terms. Because of the many months, days and man hours put in by both sides in seeking to address the fundamental issues, there was a need for third party intervention. It was not possible, however, to bring them together on a common agenda and, mindful of the perilous situation facing the company, the LRC came forward with final settlement terms to be accepted by everybody as a compromise and an acknowledgement that there is potential in developmental plans for the future. That is given precedence in clause 24 which states that the parties should sit down in a non negotiating forum and apply those strategies which will help the viability of the company.
The LRC, which is the acknowledged industrial relations expert in this area and which was asked to report by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, has come forward with these settlement  terms as the only way forward given the present position. It is important for everyone to understand that it is not a question of a different agenda — this is the present position. We would rather have had a solution which would meet and overcome the problems but that was not possible. We must re-establish the competitiveness of this firm in order for it to have a future. The people in TEAM have remarkable skills but we must ensure that they can price jobs competitively, get the work and generate revenue to pay the wages which will help investment in the future. That is the nature of every enterprise and we have come to the stage where that cash drain cannot continue. Viability must be established if the company is to have a future. We cannot have a situation where a hard pressed airline group is being asked to bankroll TEAM. It is also in a state of recovery and would be put at risk if we were to allow that to continue.
I am pleading for common sesne to prevail in the interest of maintaining employment. I am asking that these final settlement terms be agreed so that we can establish and develop the strategies that will give a more credible and viable future for TEAM with the participation of everybody in the company. No amount of discussion will change the facts I have outlined and they have to be confronted.
Mr. Hogan: Will the Minister accept that he is being led astray by his advisers and that the Cahill plan, which was to resolve the financial problems of Aer Lingus, is now unravelling? Will he accept also that this is not a public service dispute? This is a company of 1,900 workers whose jobs are at stake. The potential viability of the company is at  stake also. Will the Minister accept that the only course of action open to him is direct intervention and the creation of a new forum, since confidence no longer exists between the unions and the management in respect of the LRC report?
Mr. Cowen: I am sorry to hear the Deputy, at the end of his question, cast some doubt on the LRC report. The LRC is the acknowledged expert in this area. It has been close to the problems not only in TEAM but also in the Aer Lingus group for the past 18 months. I can assure the Deputy that its members are most able conciliators, and the State is fortunate to have them. They have come forward with these settlement terms as the only solution available. That point must be made quite clear. It is an integral part of any strategy for recovery within the Aer Lingus group generally that all sections of the group make a contribution towards recovery. We have reached the stage now where, within TEAM, a contribution must be made. I realise that poses difficulties but the survival of the company is at stake and, therefore, we must take the necessary decisions, based on the views of the only people whom we can trust to arbitrate on this matter in an objective fashion, namely, the LRC. The LRC is highly regarded and respected right across the industrial relations spectrum, by employers and employees, workers and trades unions alike. We must take its views on board and move forward. We cannot do otherwise because there is nothing further I can do that will change the economic facts of the situation.
I have received approval from the European Commission to inject £25 million equity into this company under certain conditions, namely, that its viability be established. The conditionality applies in relation to all parts of the equity injection into Aer Lingus and the airline group has balloted and agreed on a restructuring and rationalisation programme that seeks to achieve those objectives. The same applies here but both sides in TEAM have been unable to establish a  common agenda and reach decisions. We cannot postpone decisions indefinitely. If this company was a stand alone operation it would have been put into receivership some time ago. The airline company is bankrolling TEAM and it cannot continue to do that for any length of time without putting its own position at risk. Taking all that into account and having regard to what will happen if we do not reach positive decisions, it is in the interest of everybody, including the workers, to accept the final settlement terms and progress strategies which will ensure viability in the future. It is the only way forward and I am pleading that that be done.
Mrs. Owen: Would the Minister agree that the unions will not listen to his pleading unless he and the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, agree to take a hands on interest and involvement in this dispute? The Minister tells us that the LRC report contains the seeds of agreement but it has not worked. Does he accept that the LRC is not the Government or the chief shareholder and that it is up to him to take an interest in it?
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Ahern, set a precedent when he intervened in an electricity strike. I ask the Minister, for the sixth time, if he will give the House an assurance that he will not allow this company to layoff 850 people before he meets with the unions and the new chief executive, Mr. Hurley, to try to hammer out an agreement which would save the company? Does the Minister agree that the unions have no vested interest in seeing the company go to the wall, that their interest is to save the jobs and the company and their reason for not accepting the LRC report is they have not seen anything in it that ensures the long term viability of the company? The Minister must assure the House that he will intervene now.
Mr. Cowen: I cannot add to the LRC final settlement terms. Even if the Government had more money at its disposal than the £25 million it is prepared  to invest I would not be allowed to invest it under EU rules. These are the terms and layoffs are avoidable based on shareholders, management and unions accepting them. I cannot add to nor subtract from the final settlement terms and that is why I ask those from whom we await a positive decision, the trade unions involved, to take that on board and accept this is the only commonsense way forward. It gives me no joy to say that but that is the position. We as a Government accepted the responsibilities imposed on us by the LRC final settlement terms. Management, who did not get what they sought, accepted them. We are left with the other party to the dispute and I ask them to consider in the cold light of day that this is the position.
Miss Quill: Has the Minister considered why another aircraft maintenance company, Shannon Aerospace, has been trading so successfully at a time when TEAM Aer Lingus has been dogged with problems? Are there any lessons to be learned from the Shannon operation and could any be employed to find a formula for breaking the deadlock and avoid impending disaster? Will the Minister take a hands on approach armed with the model of Shannon?
Mr. Cowen: Anyone who suggests I have not had a hands on approach since I became Minister has not been in the House listening to what has been said here over many months. I am the Minister responsible and I am setting out the facts even though some may not like to hear them and it does not give me any pleasure to set them out.
As regards Shannon Aerospace or any other company I would not be so presumptious as to talk about a company I am not dealing with. Any company or organisation involved in this business is in it because it is competitive and able to get business. In the past TEAM secured  business but it was not viable. Acceptance of the terms is a prerequisite to viability. There is no magic formula. We have been through the full gamut of procedures and processes since last September. I understand the dilemmas it raises for people on all sides in TEAM but this is where we are and we do not have any luxuries left to weigh or further discuss. It is decision time. The survival of the company is at stake and it is on that basis that I make my plea to everyone concerned.
Mr. R. Burke: I fully accept the Minister's interest and hands on approach in relation to Aer Lingus but while I accept the LRC is a competent organisation I have been around long enough to know that there is never an “only” solution to a problem. To suggest that the LRC report is the only solution to this complex issue is overstating the case. If there is such difficulty in finding a common agenda what relevance has clause 24 of the LRC report which the Minister quoted? It states: “The potential of the plan produced by the craft union group——
Mr. R. Burke: It would call the parties together on a non-negotiating basis. If  there has been difficulty in finding a common agenda what is the point in suggesting “calling them together on a non-negotiating basis”. I suggest that clause 24 should be amended and action taken to call both sides together on a negotiating basis.
Mr. Cowen: I share and understand the Deputy's concern. He is a constituency Deputy for the area. The reason we are down to the wire in terms of accepting the LRC final settlement terms is that time has run out. There is no room for manoeuvre. Some progress was made in negotiations over the past nine months. The LRC final settlement terms refer to undisputed points of agreement being incorporated as part of the solution together with the other terms they set out as having the prospect of viability. Had both parties been able to address the magnitude of the problem on a negotiating bilateral basis the LRC would not have been required.
The reason we are at the wire and must seek acceptance of the LRC final settlement terms is, as late as last week when the LRC were asked in as an exceptional measure under section 38 (2) — a referral from the Minister to the Labour Relations Commission—it was not possible for both parties to come forward with a common agenda and reach decisions to meet the magnitude of the problem. That is why we have reached the stage where acceptance of the final settlement terms  by all sides is being sought. Given the gravity, seriousness and urgency of the problem the LRC came forward with these final settlement terms which it hopes will maintain employment. If these terms were not put forward then we would not have available to us any framework within which we could move forward, even at this late stage. The acceptance of the final settlement terms by the three parties concerned — the Government as shareholder, management and the union — would be the first step in establishing viability. This is a prerequisite for any further discussions about potential developmental strategies which can be adopted on a bilateral and participative basis between management and unions in the future. Those are the facts and that is why there is no room for manoeuvre at this stage.
Mr. R. Bruton: Will the Minister agree that virtually every Deputy intimately involved with this dispute has met the unions and management to discuss the issue and that he has a unique ability to explain to the two parties the strategy which must be pursued from here on? Will he further agree that as the shareholder, the person responsible for ensuring the viability of the company, he cannot walk away and leave the dispute to be resolved by the Labour Relations Commission?
Mr. Cowen: I have not walked away from the problem. I am pointing out to the Deputy the solution to the problem. If as much energy was put into persuading all those concerned of the gravity and seriousness of the situation a much better job would be done by everybody. I am seeking to explain as best I can to the Deputy and people outside this House  the seriousness and urgency of the problem. Those facts are not going to change. Even if there were 20 meetings, one would not change the central issue. Two of the parties, the shareholder and management, have positively addressed the issue and I am asking the other party to address it in the same way, understanding as I do the difficulties it poses for them. This is the only framework on which I, the workers and the enterprise can go forward. That is the position, and I cannot make it any clearer. There is nothing else which can be emphasised at this late stage other than the points I have made for the benefit of those both inside and outside the House.
Proinsias De Rossa: It is incredible that the Minister has once again told the House that the LRC, an industrial relations expert, and not an aviation expert, has the only solution to save TEAM Aer Lingus. The situation in relation to Northern Ireland is much tougher and no deadlines or final solutions have been set.
Proinsias De Rossa: The north County Dublin area will be devastated if this company closes. The Minister must accept his responsibility, sit down with the unions and management and negotiate a way forward for this company.
Mr. Cowen: As I have previously pointed out to the Deputy, I do not regard the analogy with Northern Ireland  as appropriate. No organisation or enterprise has the standing or expertise of the LRC in this area or knows as much about the workings of Aer Lingus and the problems pertaining to TEAM. Its officers have been involved in an intimate way for many months in dealing with these problems. No other organisation would be accepted as being in a position to listen to both sides of the argument and come to conclusions. The conclusion it has come to is, unfortuntely, as I have outlined. It put forward final settlement terms for acceptance by everyone. I wish it were otherwise, but that is the position.
Mr. Cowen: We have run out of time, cash and work and the parties involved in the dispute have to come to certain conclusions on that basis. Everyone has to make a decision mindful that the position will not change, except to deteriorate.
The £1 million per month drain on the airline during the winter months becomes much higher in leaner summer months and this certainly cannot be borne by the airline. Another part of the company, which is in recovery and has made sacrifices and a contribution towards viability, will be put at risk if more time is sought. Unfortunately, time has run out. The problems of TEAM have been under discussion for many months but it was not possible to report progress. In spite of the unprecedented referral of the problem to the LRC by the Minister, there was still an inability to form a common agenda at that late stage. The final settlement terms have been put forward because of the gravity and seriousness of the situation and in the interests of maintaining employment. Logic and common sense dictate that we must move on from here and that all parties should accept the final settlement terms as a framework on which we can move forward. The other issues which are near and dear to people's hearts can be dealt with under clause 24 for the purpose of further progressing the company. Given  the facts I have outlined, what other way forward is there?
Mr. S. Ryan: The workers are prepared to negotiate an agreement and last February-March they negotiated savings of £14 million. Time is running out and given that the workers have rejected the plan, I appeal to the Minister, congress or an independent body to provide more time to enable the staff and the company to resolve the problems. If this takes another week, so be it — it will be worth it. If the problem escalates into a dispute it will be much more difficult to resolve.
Mr. Cowen: I do not wish to refer to the confidential parts of the report which the unions saw last Friday relating to the agreement and whether savings of £14 million were involved. I do not wish to breach confidentiality but those parts of the report were dealt with in some detail and the unions will be aware of the LRC's position on them.
We have gone through the full gamut of industrial relations bodies and the LRC is the only body which has the expertise to deal with this matter. No further time is available to look at the problem. We have reached the eleventh hour and I am asking people to accept the final settlement terms so as to maintain employment. The other issues can be dealt with separately.
Mr. Sargent: So far as the unions are concerned the eleventh hour was reached last March when a previous agreement was negotiated. Will the Minister bear in mind that the unions do not necessarily want to talk to him about extra money from Europe? They want to talk about future strategy for the company. The Minister should not underestimate his role in this regard. Like his colleague, the Minister for Finance, who beame actively involved in a previous dispute, he should take his position seriously and talk to the workers in TEAM Aer Lingus. We are  concerned about this company and he is talking to us, but will he please talk to the workers in TEAM?
Mr. Cowen: The industrial relations dispute in which the Minister, Deputy Ahern, became involved was totally different. The Deputy asked me to discuss the future prospects of the company. The future is at stake if the terms of this final settlement are not accepted. If discussions were to bring about viability, we would have had viability a long time ago. Deputy Sargent who represents that constituency, will be aware of the position also, and I share his concern, but one cannot put the overall enterprise at risk; one has to take decisions. We have come to that decision; we are at the survival stage and we must be positive. It is in everybody's interests and common sense dictates it be accepted.
There is nothing further which can be discussed which would allow us the time or manoeuverability to which Deputy Burke and others referred. As I said on Thursday last we are at the gate and we know how serious is the matter. I get no joy from saying that. It is important, when people have heard the factual position and realise their jobs are at stake, that we seek to take an informed decision in the interests of all our futures; that is what is important.
Mrs. Owen: The Minister has often prided himself on being a pragmatist. He is not being very pragmatic here and he needs to recognise that this company will collapse unless he takes a hand in resolving the matter. As he is unwilling to give a commitment in this House to meet the unions, will he endeavour to convince the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, to meet the unions and the new chief executive in order to bring this matter to some kind of conclusions acceptable to all concerned? It was the Minister for Enterprise and Employment who appointed the Labour Relations Commission and, in his statement, requested them to find “an agreed solution”, not an imposed one. If the Minister for Transport, Energy and  Communications will not meet the unions, will the Government please request the Minister for Enterprise and Employment to do so?
Mr. Cowen: I am not selective in my concern. I also have responsibilities to the many workers in the airline group who have made contributions and sacrifices. I have responsibilities to the taxpayer and to everyone concerned. I am deeply mindful of my responsibilities in so far as the position of TEAM Aer Lingus is concerned. We are all on the one wavelength. We all want a future for TEAM but we cannot wish a future; we have to establish it and give the company a viable, competitive framework within which to work. That does not exist at present.
Mr. Cowen: The only way forward is within the framework outlined. Until we reach that position talks about the future of TEAM are on very flimsy ground unless we can establish its competitive base. That is fundamental to any enterprise and that is the position we are at. I must remind Deputies that, in terms of additional time, the Aer Lingus airline cannot continue to bankroll TEAM; the airline would place itself at risk were it to do so. As we enter into the lean summer months for TEAM Aer Lingus, the airliners contributions will rise to an extent which simply would not be tenable and would put that enterprise at risk. Everybody should bear in mind the gravity, seriousness and urgency of the position and allow common sense prevail. I refuse to believe that anybody is not interested in maintaining employment — we are all on the same wavelength in that respect — but this is the only framework within which that can be driven forward. We have run out of time, out of manoeuverability.
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