Dublin Airport operator DAA has been accused of a "race to the bottom" due to the working conditions on offer to security staff it is seeking to hire to help cut delays.
In recent days Dublin Airport has been plagued by passenger delays caused by long queues being blamed on a lack of staff to carry out security checks.
The Dáil heard on Tuesday that security staff were among those offered 1,000 redundancies during the Covid-19 pandemic and just 100 people had been rehired.
Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan raised the issue of the “huge queues” with Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Wednesday.
He said the DAA has been advertising to hire more security staff who must be available 40 hours-per-week but are only being guaranteed 20-hours work with a minimum weekly salary of €283.
Mr O’Callaghan said: “The DAA is clearly engaging in a race to the bottom driving down working conditions. This impacting directly on passengers using the airport.”
He asked Mr Martin if he stands over what he described as "exploitative terms and conditions for full-time jobs in an Irish semi-State company".
Mr Martin said the DAA is working “extremely hard” to try and deal with the delays and they are recruiting staff.
He said the 100 staff hired recently “should assist in the alleviation of the excessive queue times over the coming period.”
On the terms being offered to staff he said: “The DAA works with social partners and through the various... employer/employee mechanisms in terms of work conditions and so on.
“I’ll certainly raise the issues that you’ve raised with them.”
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the terms and conditions were an "absolute insult" and he said that more broadly private security staff in a number of sectors in Ireland are "shockingly badly paid". He asked what the Government intended to do about it.
Mr Martin again said he would raise the issue with the DAA and staff having to be available for 40 hours-a-week for as little as 20 hours work.
The Taoiseach said: “There clearly should be a more worker-friendly approach than that. But I’ll follow up.”
Asked about the conditions , DAA chief executive, Dalton Philips said the entry level for security staff was €14.14 per hour, 35 per cent above the national minimum wage, and roles were pensionable with security of employment and other benefits. He said it was a heavily seasonal sector.
A DAA spokesman said security staff are recruited on variable hours contracts to allow it to manage the peaks and troughs of the operation and volatility in passenger demand throughout the year.
He said those hired as an Airport Security Unit (ASU) officer in the current recruitment campaign would be notified 30 days in advance of their next four-week schedule. He added: “In reality, most candidates joining do work more than the minimum 20 hours guaranteed”.
Mr Philips told RTE Radio’s News at One the airport was “recruiting aggressively” for security staff. “We need to recruit nearly 300 people. It is a very difficult market and this is a very skilled job. We have exacting standards which we can’t compromise in any shape, form or manner. We have always been a very strong employer over the years.
He said new European legislation means enhanced background checks are needed for airport employees. “It is essentially like Garda vetting plus plus. It is very vigorous and that created a lot of challenge at the beginning of the year.”
Speaking about the security delays for passengers he said there was significant pent up travel demand which was higher than expected. “We always thought it was going to return strongly but you are talking about 30 percent higher than our forecasted numbers.
“To put that in context 15,000 extra passengers per day. And so we are grappling to deal with this very high demand at a time when the labour market is incredibly tight.
“ We apologise unreservedly. It is not what passengers should expect in Dublin Airport. And we are not happy with the situation.”
Kevin Cullinane, spokesman for DAA, said the airport currently has over 600 Airport Security Unit (ASU) officers and is looking to recruit up to 300 more.
“Immediate action” is being taken to address the issues that are causing delays at security, Mr Cullinane said, adding that the recruitment process will “continue at pace, on an ongoing basis, over the coming months”.
“The process to recruit, train and onboard new staff takes several weeks and is happening against a backdrop of growing passenger numbers at Dublin Airport at the start of the busy summer schedule,” he added.
Mr Cullinane said the labour market is “particularly challenging” at present, but they have called a further 250 candidates to interview this week.
Furthermore, the “log jam” of background checks which delayed some recently recruited staff from starting is easing, and it is hoped “more new staff can begin working on the frontline in the coming weeks”.
However, he said: “Until we are fully resourced at 900 officers we will be challenged at peak hours of busy days, like last weekend.”
Joe O’Sullivan, a Siptu shop steward from the Airport Security Unit said while staff shortages in security had only come to wider public attention in recent days, the difficulties had been building for some time.
Mr O’Sullivan suggests that a wide range of factors fed into recent airport delays but that the loss of so many experienced security staff combined with the challenge of hiring replacements on what could be regarded as relatively poor pay and conditions are “paramount”.
“Money, terms and conditions, if they were improved it would definitely help to alleviate the problems with the existing staff that are there and it would help the company to get new staff in.”
“You can go on down the road to any supermarket, no disrespect to any of them, and go in on €15 or €16 an hour. And the people doing that don’t have to get up at two o’clock in the morning to start work at half three.”
He said the union was resubmitting a pay claim for security workers. Mr O’Sullivan said he would not rule out the possiblity of future industrial action.
“I wouldn’t rule it out. I switched on my phone yesterday evening and looked at the Whatsapp group from the airport and I think there was 239 messages on it and they are saying we have to do something,” he said.
DAA has warned that waiting times are likely to continue for days and weeks ahead. On Tuesday the airport announced it is pausing the sale of fast-track passes “for the time being”.DAA has advised all passengers to be at the airport a minimum of two hours before boarding a short-haul flight and three hours prior to boarding a long-haul flight, although at peak times people should consider arriving ahead of that.