26 November 2005

Ferry protesters resolute

Daily Ireland

ZOË TUNNEY

Four Irish Ferries workers who remain holed up in one of the company’s vessels last night showed no signs of backing down.
Speaking to Daily Ireland from the engine room of the Isle of Inishmore ferry, the workers said they were determined to carry on their protest until management agreed to adhere to the recommendations of the Labour Court.
One of the workers, Gary Jones, said: “We are in good spirits and we all feel very determined. We will stay here for as long as it takes. We have nothing else to lose.
“Irish Ferries have whittled our terms of employment down to nothing and now they want to take our jobs. That is what we are doing this for.”
The four Irish Ferries ship’s officers — all members of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union — barricaded themselves into the engine room of the vessel on Thursday afternoon. They did so after management brought two bus loads of foreign workers and security personnel aboard the ship.
The Isle of Inishmore was due to set sail for Rosslare at 2.30pm on Thursday but passengers were told to disembark. The ship was still stranded last night in Pembroke dock in Wales.
Gary Jones, John Curry, Brian Whitfield and Vincent Hetherington locked the door to the engine room, which is the central control unit of the vessel.
They have access to telephones and have been keeping in regular contact with the nine other Siptu members on board the ship.
Mr Jones said Irish Ferries management had not tried to contact or negotiate with them since they entered the engine room.
The executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called a special meeting for next Tuesday to discuss the latest wrangle in the dispute.
Congress organised the meeting on the back of calls from Siptu president Jack O’Connor for a national day of protest against the actions of Irish Ferries.
On Tuesday this week, Siptu members voted to serve a 14-day notice for strike action on the company.
The dispute began when Irish Ferries offered a redundancy package to 543 of its ship’s officers to make way for cheaper labour from outside the European Union.
Mr Jones said the dispute was not about foreign workers.
“We have no problem with workers from other countries but, if Irish Ferries want to employ them, let them pay them a fair wage and compete with the rest of the Irish labour force.
“Irish Ferries have to negotiate a union rate. Otherwise, they will get away with slave labour,” he said.
A ruling from the Irish Labour Court last week said Irish Ferries should honour its existing arrangements in the dispute over the outsourcing of staff on its Irish Sea routes.
Irish Ferries human- resources director Alf McGrath said the company had to employ cheaper labour to survive in the market.
“We’ve predicted that, if we don’t make costs-reduction changes adequate to meet the needs of competition, then we won’t have a company,” he said.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the current stand-off was an unacceptable resort to confrontation, which was not the way to conduct industrial relations. Labour Party TD Brendan Howlin accused Irish Ferries of thuggery. He blamed the company for destroying social partnership in Ireland.
“This stand-off is wrecking any agreement between the government and social partners. The onus is now on the government to act like never before,” he said.

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