09 December 2005

Thousands show solidarity with Irish Ferries workers


09/12/2005 - 16:57:07

Tens of thousands of employees today turned out to protest in solidarity with Irish Ferries workers who are fighting attempts by the company to replace them with cheaper foreign labour.

Gardaí put the number of marchers in central Dublin at around 40,000, while Congress President Peter McLoone said 80,000 to 100,000 had turned up, with people still leaving Parnell Square as the first groups reached the end of the march at Merrion Square.

Thousands also turned out for marches across the country for the national day of protest.

Union leaders called on the Government to protect the Irish people from a race to the bottom in wages, which they said was happening as a result of increasing numbers of foreign workers being employed at below the going rates.

But the march, led by a Congress banner which read ’Equal Rights for All Workers’, was not against migrant workers, they insisted.

Mr McLoone said: “This is a day of national protest in support of the workers at Irish Ferries, but also a demonstration that wants to send a very clear message to Government that we do not want a society that is founded on injustice, blackguardism, and the exploitation of workers.”

He said the day of protest had received messages of support from the international trade union movement including the TUC and the Latvian trade union conference, and he gave a special welcome to Ryanair pilots who had turned out to march in their uniforms.

The general secretary of Congress – which called for the demonstration – David Begg said the protesters had a fundamental message to deliver.

“There is a threshold of decency below which the Irish people will not accept anyone being dragged, no matter where they come from,” he said.

“Any person who has not spent the last six months on Mars must know that in every part of this country there’s exploitation.”

Mr Begg said the dispute at Irish Ferries was leading the country in a race to the bottom, which would have a devastating impact on Irish society as a whole.

And he said the rest of Europe was watching closely events in Ireland, because what was happening in the state was also occurring in other countries such as Sweden and Finland.

SIPTU general president Jack O’Connor criticised the Government for using what he described as the rhetoric of social partnership at home, while obstructing measures to protect Irish workers on the European stage.

Although the march, supported by all the unions under the Congress banner, addressed the broader question of employees’ rights, the focus remained on the Irish Ferries workers who are protesting at the company’s attempts to replace 543 workers with foreign agency staff.

The meeting in Merrion Square at the end of the march was addressed by negotiators from Siptu – the union representing the protesting seafarers - Patricia King and Paul Smyth, who called on the Government to prevent the re-flagging of Irish Ferries vessels to avoid Irish labour laws.

The centre of Dublin ground to a halt for the duration of the march, with services on public transport suspended so workers could join the protest.

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