Irish Republican News · December 12, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Huge support for Ferries workers

In one of the biggest ever demonstrations of its kind, up to 100,000 people took part in a march in Dublin on Saturday in support of the Irish Ferries workers and against wage exploitation in the Irish economy.

Rallies also took place in Belfast, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Rosslare Harbour, Athlone, Sligo and Waterford.

The turnout, in response to an appeal by trade union leaders, was described as an expression of solidarity with workers at Irish Ferries, who face being replaced en masse by workers from eastern Europe willing to work for a fraction of the Irish wage.

The company has insisted that it intends to go ahead with the redundancies regardless of talks. It has also stated its intention to reflag its vessels under the flag of Cyprus, which would mean it would not be bound by 26 County law to pay its employees the minimum wage.

In protest, three ships officers remain barricaded into the control room on the Isle of Inishmore ferry, while crews on the Ulysses and the Jonathan Swift ferries in Dublin are preventing their ships from sailing.

Dublin Port workers have said they will not handle any Irish Ferries ships until such time as the dispute is resolved.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) general secretary David Begg said those who wasted “rainforests of newsprint” every Sunday claiming the trade union movement was finished had got their answer.

“And we have a message which is fundamental for every employer in the country, that there is a threshold of decency below which the Irish people will not accept anybody being dragged, no matter where they come from.”

Mr Begg rejected criticism from employers’ bodies that the protest was unnecessary.

“Any person who has not spent the last six months on Mars must know that in every part of this country there is exploitation.” This was made manifest by the “extraordinary case of Irish Ferries”, but it was “happening everywhere”.

Siptu president Jack O’Connor said unions had told the Government and employers in partnership talks two years ago that there were issues to be addressed regarding exploitation of workers and employment standards.

“They wouldn’t listen then. Well maybe they’ll listen now,” he said, to cheers from the crowd.

Among the banners carried by marchers was one declaring, in Polish and English, “Polish Workers Against Exploitation”. A similar banner was carried by workers from Lithuania.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions president Peter McLoone told participants in the biggest trade union demonstration in the capital since the PAYE march of 1979 that by their presence they had demanded action from the Government. “It is our job now in the trade union movement to press home that message and to deliver real protection for Irish and migrant workers alike.”

Mr McLoone also welcomed migrant workers: “A cead mile failte to you all. We are saying loud and clear that it is not migrant workers who are depressing wages and conditions of employment, it is employers who are prepared to exploit. We want that rooted out and ended.”

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP described today’s rallies “as a massive show of strength for Irish Ferries workers”.

“Everybody knows that if Irish Ferries get their way it will have huge implications for every worker in this country. Today is about shouting stop and demanding that workers rights are protected”.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News