07 December 2005

UK workers join protest over Ferries

Irish Independent

Clock ticks down to strike as talks to resolve dispute end in stalemate

Paul Melia

TRADE unions from across the UK will protest at Holyhead port in Wales today in support of SIPTU workers currently embroiled in a dispute with Irish Ferries over plans to employ low-paid Eastern European workers.

The move comes as talks at the Labour Relations Commission in Dublin ended in stalemate last night with no end in sight to the dispute which has suspended Irish Ferries services for the past 11 days.

SIPTU regional secretary Patricia King said that talks being held today would determine if the matter could be resolved within the LRC. The union has served strike notice to take effect from tonight if there is no agreement.

Talks, which begin at 10am, are expected to last the day.

Asked if the strike would be extended to all SIPTU branches, Ms King said: "It's a matter for how people react."

Exploitation

Today at least six UK-based unions will travel to Holyhead to support Irish Ferries workers and to highlight the issues of job displacement, exploitation and employment standards, John Tilley from the RMT, the union representing rail, maritime and transport workers, said.

"We've organised it at the request of the ITF (International Transport Workers Federation)," he said. "We're bringing a coach load from Liverpool and from parts of Wales as well. We're thinking it'll be a pretty good turn-out. While the Irish workers are stuck on the vessels we'll be demonstrating support.

"But there are other issues as well. The Irish workers on the ships have not had access to their trade union and under international maritime law they're entitled to that. Not only is that illegal, it's also a breach of their human rights.

"Irish Ferries have not allowed the unions near the ships on the spurious grounds of security, which is a disgrace. We're not looking to disrupt the port, we're going to support our Irish colleagues."

Meanwhile, the Irish Bishops Conference has lent its support to Friday's National Day of Protest, saying that the Irish Ferries dispute "draws attention" to how migrant workers were treated in Ireland. It called for a resolution to the dispute that respected the "rights of all involved".

In a statement, the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs said that while labour costs were "a legitimate concern", Irish Ferries was a profitable company and the desire to maximise returns should not be made at the expense of workers or in a manner which would undermine society's acceptance of "appropriate standards of employment and rates of pay".

Disruption

The ICJSA said the dispute had the potential to undermine the social partnership, and that society should ensure that immigrants were not exploited but paid a "just wage".

"Social partnership promotes an ideal of equity or fairness, and it is at least arguable that this model of social partnership has in recent years gone some way towards countering inequities in Irish society," the statement read.

"In this light, the ICJSA offers its support for the day of protest on December 9 that is being organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions."

Yesterday, it also emerged that members of the National Bus and Rail Union would support Friday's National Day of Protest, which would lead to some disruption in city bus services.

However, inter-city and commuter rail services are not expected to be affected.

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