01 December 2005

Port workers refuse to handle Irish Ferries' ships


30/11/2005 - 18:33:33

Dublin port workers tonight voted to support Irish Ferries staff fighting attempts to replace them with cheaper foreign labour, by refusing to handle any of the firm’s ships.

Members of the marine division of Ireland’s largest union SIPTU at Dublin Port decided unanimously to support their colleagues at the ferry company, branch secretary Paul Smyth said.

“As a result of this ballot, our members will not handle any Irish Ferries ships – such as the MV Normandy – until such time as the dispute is resolved,” he said.

The MV Normandy was allowed to dock late on Sunday night at Dublin with 113 passengers, for what was described as humanitarian reasons, after protests by port workers in Rosslare forced it to divert to the capital.

It has since sailed to Cherbourg and SIPTU has given the company notice its members will not allow it to return.

The increasingly bitter debate between union members and management at the ferry company began in mid-September when Irish Ferries announced it was looking to replace 543 Irish workers with foreign agency staff.

It escalated last week when security personnel escorted Eastern European seafarers onboard the Isle of Inishmore in Pembroke and the Ulysses in Holyhead, Wales, on Thursday, leading to protests on both vessels.

Although the personnel have been removed, three ships officers – Brian Whitfield, John Curry and Gary Jones – remain barricaded into the control room on the Isle of Inishmore, while crews on the Ulysses and the Jonathan Swift in Dublin are preventing their ferries from sailing.

With trucks sitting in ports for up to 24 hours awaiting transport, shipping agent Victor Treacy International has chartered a freight ferry to carry lorries to France.

The Brittany Ferries vessel will leave Cherbourg on Friday bound for Cork, before making a return trip on Saturday evening.

The ferry, which was chartered following moves by the Irish Road Hauliers Association, can carry 70 articulated trucks.

It is hoped it will alleviate frustration felt by many Irish exporters at their busiest time of year.

The move was welcomed Jimmy Quinn of the Irish Road Hauliers Association, who said a huge backlog of freight was building up as a result of action on the ships.

“This is going to be of tremendous benefit to people who are in a jam.

“A lot of seasonal stuff, like salmon and lamb are very seasonal goods and they need to move and move pretty damn quickly,” he said.

He added that the industrial action was putting pressure on other shipping lines who were doing their best to plug the gaps in freight transport.

In a separate development, the Seamen’s Union of Ireland (SUI) has voiced concerns its members’ redundancy packages might be affected by the current row.

While it is not joining SIPTU in the industrial action, the organisation is in dispute with Irish Ferries over the terms and conditions for those who wish to remain with the company.

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