A national day of solidarity is being organised next week as a dramatic protest by Irish Ferries workers continues.
Union officials have rejected the company’s call for an act of “reciprocal good will” after its security staff left the ships at two Welsh ports which they had boarded in controversial circumstances last Thursday.
Officers have refused to sail the two ships since they were boarded by the security personnel who were disguised as passengers in an apparent plan to seize the ship and evict the workers.
The four engineers in the control room of the ‘Isle of Inishmore’, docked at Pembroke, said that they would remain barricaded in the area until advised to leave by their trade union in Dublin. Many key functions of the ship are managed from the control room and while the engineers remain there the vessel cannot move.
The ferry company intends to re-register its vessels in Cyprus to ensure that employees on board the ships would no longer have the protection of Irish employment laws, including the minimum wage.
Workers from eastern Europe willing to work for low wages had been transported to Wales to take over the jobs of the displaced Irish workers.
Attempts by the Labour Relations Commission to establish a basis for talks were continuing, but with no sign of an end to the stalemate.
ICTU union general secretary David Begg said it did not accept claims by the Dublin government that it was “powerless” to do anything about this issue.
In a letter circulated to staff, Irish Ferries chief executive Eamonn Rothwell said the initial decision to place security on the ships had been a “precautionary measure”
But in a letter yesterday to Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, trade union leaders said they were “extremely concerned” about the use of “private, unidentified, security personnel”.
The executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has decided to hold a national day of protest on December 9th, “in solidarity with Irish Ferries’ workers and to highlight the issues of job displacement, exploitation and employment standards”.
Speaking in the Dublin parliament today Sinn Féin TD, Caoimhghin O Caolain accused the Government of sharing responsibility for the “disgraceful tactics” of the Irish Ferries management. He said the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sent out “a message of no-hope” last week to the workforce and within days the company was “enforcing its new work regime with hired heavies”.
The Vice-President of Republican Sinn Féin Des Dalton pledged full support for the striking workers and called for a boycott of Irish Ferries.
He said the dispute was “a defining moment” for the Irish Trade Union Movement with echoes of the 1913 lockout.
“What we are witnessing is the playing out of the globalisation agenda, a world where the most vulnerable, in this case migrant workers, are exploited and used to set one section of the working class against the other.”