Cabin crew size the issue in union dispute at Aer Lingus

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Aer Lingus is to hire from an external contractor the flight attendants it requires for its planned transatlantic network expansion with wet-leased Boeing 757s, after failing to reach an agreement with its own cabin crew members.

The dispute – which appears likely to lead to redundancies – centres on the cabin crew size for the three 757s, which the Irish flag carrier will lease from Air Contractors, a division of Dublin-based ASL Aviation Group.

Aer Lingus wants to crew the narrowbodies with four flight attendants, while the Impact union proposes five cabin crew members, say sources familiar with the situation.

The disagreement particularly affects staff at Aer Lingus’s Shannon base, as the airline is replacing an Airbus A330 currently stationed at the west coast airport with two 757s from January 2014. The smaller aircraft will be used to increase frequencies to Boston and New York.

The third 757 will be deployed from Dublin on a new route to Toronto, while the A330 will be used for a new service from the Irish capital to San Francisco.

Aer Lingus originally planned to wet-lease the 757 with ASL pilots and employ its own cabin crew. As the 757 is configured with 177 passengers – three more than can be carried on the airline’s A320s – Aer Lingus wanted to employ four flight attendants, as it does on its short-haul operations.

The plan has been approved by the Irish Aviation Authority, says Aer Lingus.

However, as no agreement was reached with Impact, the carrier has decided to hire cabin crew too from ASL.

“Following our series of meetings, it is clear that Impact has come to the conclusion that it will not co-operate with the commencement of 757 operations due to start in January 2014,” writes Seán Murphy, the airline's director of change and engagement, in an open letter to the union.

Murphy says that while Aer Lingus’s original plans for the 757 introduction would have created 40 “new” positions across the airline – including “additional jobs” and more job security in Shannon – the employment of external flight attendants is leading to “significant surplus of cabin crew at our Shannon base”.

“Our next challenge will be to work through the consequential issues arising from this unfortunate situation,” he adds.