Irish Ferries is to replace hundreds of workers with seafarers from eastern Europe in a move that has shocked trade unions and political leaders.
Talks get underway at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions this morning in the wake of the announcement that Irish Ferries is seeking 543 redundancies on its Irish Sea routes.
Sinn Féin’s Arthur Morgan said the redundancy offer was “disgraceful” and referred to recent controversies about working conditions aboard the MV Normandy.
He said working conditions aboard the vessel had “deteriorated sharply when it underwent the process now proposed on the Dublin-Holyhead and Rosslare-Pembroke routes.”
He added that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheal Martin should make clear to the company that the exploitation of workers will not be tolerated.
The company has already outsourced employment on its Rosslare to France service, a move which led to a strike last year.
The vessel it uses on the route, the MV Normandy, has been reregistered in the Bahamas and its crew members, who are mainly from the Baltic states, are supplied by an external agency.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation claimed recently that crew on the Normandy are paid an average of O3.50 an hour, less than half the Irish minimum wage, for an 84-hour week.
The company responded that pay rates on the ship were equal to or better than those “paid by other ship-owners against whom Irish Ferries are regularly obliged to compete”.
The redundancy package comprises 8-weeks’ pay per year of service, including statutory of two. However, it is only on the table if agreement is reached on the company’s right to replace departing staff with crew from an agency.
Green Party spokesperson on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan TD said: “ The announcement by Irish Ferries is not only an appalling affront to its loyal and long-serving workforce but also an insult to the foreign workers who will replace them - the company is laying off their Irish workers and replace them with foreign workers on foreign contracts that potentially sidestep domestic labour laws.”
The SIPTU trade union has served two weeks’ strike notice on Irish Ferries.
SIPTU branch secretary Paul Smith described it as “a lesson in corporate greed” and said that the union was left with no choice but to issue strike notice given the company’s rejection of the recommendations in an independent consultants’ report that would have preserved jobs.
“We have already agreed to O3.5 million in cuts and the company is holding its market share but it seems intent on using loopholes in the labour laws created by flags of convenience to recruit cheap labour abroad.”