Ireland: Historic victory for Turkish GAMA workers

The dispute at GAMA Construction, the Turkish multinational company, has ended with a victory for the workers.

On Friday 27 May the workers voted overwhelmingly to accept the Labour Court ruling relating to overtime payments. GAMA, which had tried to argue that they owed nothing to workers in overtime, also accepted the ruling.

The outcome gave each of the 80 workers who had stayed in Ireland to continue the strike E8,000 for each year of service (pro-rata in respect to part years) plus a severance payment of more than E2,500. It is an indication of the incredible abuse these workers suffered that these sums would amount to less than one third of what they should have been due in overtime.

However when these payments are taken along with the payment of the wages hidden in the secret Dutch bank accounts, the workers have gained an important victory. Only three months earlier they were getting around E800 a month. Now they have gotten back a huge portion of the wages that GAMA had stolen since 2002. A worker with three years’ service has now received close to E70,000, which is a lot of money particularly in Turkey. The strike also forced GAMA to pay the Registered Employment Rates of pay to all of its workers since February.

Unfortunately 200 hundred strikers decided to go back to Turkey in early and mid May with their portion of the E40 million that had been discovered in Finansbank in Holland. While the loss of so many strikers weakened the industrial muscle of the workers, by maintaining the pickets on the sites and honing the public support into political pressure, we were able to force the Labour Court to give the workers more of their stolen money. The additional payments for overtime were a real vindication of those 80 workers who continued the fight in very difficult circumstances.

While the Socialist Party on many occasions outlined its view that the workers should return to the sites after the strike in order to consolidate the changes in pay and conditions, it was understandable that the overwhelmingly feeling of the workers was not to return to GAMA’s employment.

Unfortunately at the end, that meant GAMA could insist that none of the strikers would be taken back. However SIPTU and the other unions should immediately go onto GAMA’s sites to ensure that a strong union organization is established and maintained to force GAMA to continue to implement union pay rates and working conditions.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the GAMA strike has created a new chapter in the history of the working class in this country. Never before in such a dramatic fashion have migrant workers, against considerable odds, engaged in such a bitter dispute. This has demonstrated the willingness of migrant workers to fight and has given a lead that Irish workers should follow. The strike has proven that well organised struggle is the best way to force concessions from the bosses and from the state.

Migrant labour, particularly from Eastern Europe, is increasingly been used to attack wages and conditions in the construction industry. This issue must be taken seriously by the unions, which must now use the bridgehead created by the GAMA workers and the Socialist Party, to organise all migrant workers. The unions now have an important opportunity to defend the conditions of all construction workers, to strengthen the movement and at the same time, to cut across the potential for racism in the future.

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June 2005