14 December 2005

BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | Ferry dispute 'takes a bad turn'


The Isle of Inishmore remains in Pembroke Dock

The industrial dispute which brought tens of thousands of protestors onto the streets of the Republic of Ireland has taken another turn for the worse.

The dispute centres on plans to replace about 540 Irish Ferries crew members with cheaper foreign workers.

Irish Ferries has told the unions involved that its three ships must resume sailings by Tuesday night.

It has threatened to cut a redundancy offer and take one of the vessels out of service if sailings do not restart.

On Friday, thousands demonstrated in Dublin and eight other towns and cities in the Republic of Ireland.

On Saturday, trade union members staged a demonstration in west Wales in support of the Irish Ferries' workers.

"The union SIPTU is not interested in engaging to negotiate a settlement."
Eamonn Rothwell
Irish Ferries chief executive

Talks resumed on Tuesday to resolve the dispute following the company's ultimatum.

The negotiations have been taking place at the Labour Relations Commission in Dublin.

None of the company's three ships between Ireland and Britain have sailed since 24 November.

The dispute has also paralysed an Ireland-France service involving a fourth Irish Ferries ship.

National minimum wage

The company is seeking to "reflag" the three Irish Sea ferries to Cyprus.

Irish labour laws do not apply on ships under foreign flags.

Irish Ferries chief executive Eamonn Rothwell said the main union SIPTU was not "interested in engaging to negotiate a settlement".

This was despite the company "being prepared to consider conceding, among other things, the national minimum wage for future contract crews", he said.

Thousands demonstrated in Dublin and eight other towns

The dispute began in September when Irish Ferries offered redundancy to a third of its workforce in order to replace them with lower-paid workers from central and eastern Europe.

It escalated more than two weeks ago when Irish Ferries crew members on the vessels Isle of Inishmore and the Ulysses barricaded themselves on board.

The ships have remained moored in Pembroke Dock and Holyhead respectively while the dispute remains unresolved.

Irish Ferries has said it needs to bring in foreign staff to remain competitive.

The company added it had been completely open about its plans to bring in new crews as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

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