Northern Ireland : Hunger striking airport worker in critical condition

Press release issued by the sacked Belfast airport workers on 19 May 2008

Background information: leaflet, statement (both pdfs).

blog and online petition

Northern Ireland 

Hunger striking airport worker in critical condition

Press Release

  • Hunger Strike by Belfast airport workers is the direct responsibility of Tony Woodley, the Unite joint general secretary
  • Support from actor Ricky Tomlinson and playwright Jimmy McGovern

For the last five days, T&G shop steward and ex-airport worker Gordon McNeill has been on a hunger and liquid strike on the roof of the T&G headquarters in Belfast. Gordon’s condition is now critical and he will die unless the T&G leadership acts now to stop this tragedy.

Background

The protest is a result of the union’s past collaboration with the ICTS management at Belfast airport, which resulted in four shop stewards and 20 other workers being unfairly dismissed.

Last September, a Belfast employment tribunal ruled that these workers were unfairly sacked and blamed both the management and the local T&G official for bringing this about. The huge legal costs amounting to over £200,000 have been loaded on the shoulders of the four shop stewards whilst the union refused any responsibility. The tribunal ordered ICTS to pay damages, also over £200,000, but this sum has been frozen pending an appeal to the High Court by ICTS.

Because of these legal obstacles, the shop stewards are facing eviction from their homes and hugely indebted. The solicitors who acted for the workers have said they cannot act any further without these costs being met. A number of issues are involved but as a sign of good intent, the shop stewards have said that if the union pays off the outstanding legal fees, they will call off the protest.

Unfortunately, the shop stewards feel that they cannot trust the union without this concrete gesture. On four separate occasions, the union promised to settle but all of these promises have been reneged upon.

This is an extremely serious situation. Gordon has left instructions that if he is taken to hospital, he will refuse treatment as his human right. That would end in his death.

Ricky Tomlinson [former trade union activist and well-known actor] has said: “I have been on hunger strike myself and can fully sympathise with these workers.”

Playwright, Jimmy McGovern sent this message earlier: “Remember the way the TGWU betrayed Liverpool’s dockers? I bet you thought no union could ever sink so low again. I did too. We were wrong. The way in which Unite has treated the Belfast Airport workers is a disgrace. Unite’s leaders should hang their heads in shame."