Why would anyone be surprised at the chaos that engulfed Dublin Airport last weekend? Why the clash in the body politic?
If you are pursuing certain policies against all the best advice and practices, what are you waiting for? Chaos was waiting to happen, but away from the bright lights of the airport, the same policies are causing far greater long-term damage.
Once upon a time, in 2020, everyone was truly grateful to our frontline workers. For a few fleeting months, those who keep the country going, many of whom earn low wages, have been the subject of rare appreciation. At the time, nobody had thought about airport security personnel, but that was completely understandable because nobody was flying.
Around the same time, the Daa[/utl] which runs Dublin and Cork airports — and the status of the latter is a contentious issue — has decided to cut jobs. The premise was the collapse of air transport. Some believe the Daa was not passing up a good opportunity.
Replacing secure jobs with precarious contracts is all the rage in the trade these days, but Daa CEO Dalton Philips insisted during the week that none of those bad thoughts were on the table. work in the company’s redundancy plan.
About a third of the company’s 3,000 employees accepted the generous dismissal. Among them were 249 security guards, out of a full complement of almost 800. Usually, when an attractive redundancy is offered, it is aimed at reducing the workforce for the long term, or even to survive.
In this case, a pandemic was the cause. Even in the depths of the pandemic, we all knew it was transient, that over time it would pass. Yet the medium term, even the short term, played no role in the decision to let skilled workers go. It should also be noted that the board of directors, which includes worker representatives, has given its approval to the job cuts.
When the pandemic ended – a few months after the layoff process was completed – it was time to start recruiting workers to fill the jobs that had just been laid off. In this, the Daa was slow to get out of the traps.
Could you blame them? The decision to let go of all that security personnel suddenly seemed very stupid, even reckless. Unless, of course, the plan had always been to recruit new workers at lower wages and conditions. Mr Philips insisted during the week that was not the case. New workers were to receive contracts guaranteeing at least 20 hours of work per week.
“Our security teams are paid €14.14, that’s entry level, that’s 35% more than the national minimum wage, and obviously that’s a pensionable job with the security of employment and it has added benefits,” said Philips.
What minimum wage has to do with it is unclear. Does the CEO, who earns €250,000 a year, compare the salaries of everyone with less than a university degree to the minimum wage? What exactly is his own compensation compared to?
In any event, a minimum of 20 hours a week is not exactly a basis on which to carve out a half-decent standard of living.
Recruitment was also not going to be just about getting a few people at a good hourly rate to do a little bit of work here and there during peak periods. Frontline staff, such as security personnel, need training. “This (recruitment) process is very time consuming because of the training required for these jobs,” Graeme McQueen, media relations manager at Daa, said last Monday.
Ultimately, it’s hard to conclude other than that the primary goal was to use the opportunity to downsize and rehire in a way that would save the company money. One might well wonder what precisely has been learned from the pandemic if this is considered an acceptable approach for frontline workers, especially at a time when low-wage earners are feeling the slump in inflation. galloping.
The other dominant policy that contributed to the chaos of the last weekend is that of regionalization. The great strides the country has made economically over the past 30 years have not been matched by the political will to spread prosperity.
The greater Dublin area is now a sprawl that seeps into all surrounding counties and has been a major contributor to the housing crisis and quality of life issues. Nowhere is the failure to address this imbalance more prevalent than in aviation policy.
In 2004, the government did all it could to expand air traffic. Legislation has been introduced to dismantle Aer Rianta, which controlled Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports. The plan was to allow the latter two to go their own way.
Central to the plan was a fair distribution of Aer Rianta’s assets and a guarantee that neither Cork nor Shannon would be burdened with disproportionate debt. Then they went and screwed it up by handing over the breaking job to the new Daa.
It felt like a divorce in which one of the parties decides exactly how everything will be divided. Over the next few years, various factors played more into Daa’s agenda and although Shannon managed to break free, Cork remained in the fold out of necessity rather than choice. One of the main stumbling blocks was huge debt incurred during the major renovation and expansion of Cork.
A report compiled by local businesses in 2018 found that 46% of international visitors to Killarney came through Dublin Airport, compared to 29% from Shannon and just 11% from Cork.
The number of passengers tells a darker story. In 2012, Dublin had 19 million passengers, which in 2019 had increased to 32.9 million. Cork, on the other hand, went from 2.34 m to 2.5 m over the same period. Almost all of the traffic growth from the economic slump of the early 2010s went to the capital’s airport.
One of the most popular tickets in Cork today is a seat on the bus to Dublin Airport. That was then, the government might say today, but take a good look at the 2040 Project which is full of great promises of regionalization. The problem remains that the government seems more in the grip of the dictates of the market than imposing its stamp on economic development in a way that spreads the benefits across the state.
The market is also behind the bizarre employment practices at Dublin Airport which have seen security staff fired and rehired start months later. Is this really how we intend to move forward after the experience of the pandemic, the existential challenge posed by climate change, the growing fracture of certain layers of society?
Good luck to everyone in the air and on the ground this weekend.