Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Leo Varadkar: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important issue, the imminent closure of the SR Technics facility in north County Dublin and the knock-on effects the loss of 1,100 jobs will have on north and west Dublin and the adjoining areas.
I am appalled at the treatment SR Technics has meted out to its employees both in its refusal to honour its commitments in the pension fund and in the paltry redundancy offer it has made. It is clear SR Technics has an agenda relating to Dublin Airport which involves closing down a potentially viable operation, if necessary changes were made, and shifting its business to the Middle East and Far East. My party leader, Deputy Enda Kenny, and a number of our spokespersons have visited the facility. I have been impressed by the positive role of the workers and unions in SR Technics. It has been interesting to see how that union in the public sector refuses to accept even modest reforms and cuts while the same union in the private sector has been so proactive in trying to save jobs and an industry by putting forward a cost saving plan, offering to take pay cuts and redundancies and offering to change work practices. It behoves the Government and the Minister to do everything they can to sustain this industry and save as many of the jobs as possible.
I understand a number of companies have expressed an interest in taking over SR Technics but we have yet to hear any detail about it from the Government. I hope to hear such detail tonight, in particular about what measures the Government will put in place to support a new buyer or management buy-out if that is possible. Obviously, the Government should not put itself in a position where it is obliged to bail out every industry in the State, iconic or otherwise, but where supports can be offered, they should be offered. Furthermore, where supports would be offered to a foreign direct investor, there is no reason that similar supports could not be offered to a management buy-out team or a similar investor who might be in a position to save this industry and these jobs.
This is not the type of industry that will bounce back after a recession. If we lose this aviation maintenance industry in north County Dublin, it will not return when the economy recovers in a few years. I wish to impress on the Government the urgency of the situation and the importance that it does everything it can to save this industry and as many jobs in SR Technics as possible.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher): I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The Government very much regrets the announcement by SR Technics of its intention to close its operation at Dublin Airport. The Tánaiste recently met with a delegation representing the trade union interests in the Dublin operation, who outlined their concerns about the proposed closure. Similar concerns have been relayed to the Tánaiste in the many approaches from and meetings with public representatives and other interested groups about this sad issue for the workers.
The Government is anxious that as many jobs as possible are secured at Dublin Airport. We would like the SR Technics group to do what it can to facilitate this, such as helping to promote the capabilities and skills available at the Dublin facility, agreeing to an orderly wind-down of the facility to give IDA Ireland an opportunity to promote the location to interested parties and maintaining assets and equipment at the site for at least six months. There are a number of expressions of interest from different parties in possibly all or part of the business and time is needed to assess these proposals. The Government is anxious that the facility and the workers will maintain their IAA approval status while the alternative proposals are being progressed. The Tánaiste has conveyed these points, and the widespread concern in Ireland that every effort be made to maintain the maximum number of jobs at the facility at Dublin Airport, to SR Technics at group level, as a follow-on to her meeting with the company in February.
A number of meetings have taken 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, but had not found it possible to proceed with any of these. The company outlined the deterioration that had taken place in its global 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 last year. The company stated that the recent loss of major contracts, its current business and economic forecasts, as well as its high cost base and over-capacity at Dublin airport, had 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 had indicated that it hoped to assign this and other smaller operations to another operator, offering the potential of saving up to 200 jobs. 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 it in maximising efficiencies and improving competitiveness. The IDA also had discussions with the company about its business plan and further opportunities to assist the company with additional financial incentives such as research and development and information support with the emphasis on innovation and process development.
In the light of the announced closure of the Dublin plant, FÁS has been to the forefront in providing intervention and support to employees facing redundancy. It 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. The FÁS services to business unit will also be involved in these consultations. It is important to establish how best FÁS can assist the workers. Following this initial contact, a judgment will be made on the level of FÁS intervention required.
It is important to reiterate that there are a number of expressions of interest from different parties in acquiring all or part of the business, and both IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are actively exploring options with interested parties. Actual involvement by IDA Ireland or Enterprise Ireland in providing financial or other supports will be dependent on a company or companies submitting proposals for consideration and seeking approval for State support in the normal way.
As regards the level of redundancy payments, anything above the statutory requirements is a matter for the parties concerned, although I obviously wish to see the workers benefiting to the maximum extent. The full services of the Labour Relations Commission are available to the parties. This issue has been raised on a number of occasions by Deputies in the House. Every Member of the House fully understands the concerns of the workers not only about the job losses but also about the redundancy payments. We hope the company will try to maximise any redundancy payments.
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