Northern Ireland: Sacked airport workers recommence protest at Unite union Belfast offices

Urgent protests needed!

The three sacked airport shop stewards who called off a week long hunger and thirst strike on 11 April, after they received assurances from their union, Unite, that commitments made to them last September would be met, have resumed protest action. They issued the following press release on on 15 May 2008.

Background information: leaflet, statement (both pdfs).

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Sacked airport workers recommence protest at Unite union Belfast offices

Unite leadership go back on their promises to pay legal fees and compensate the sacked shop stewards

“We have learned that nothing the Unite leadership say can be trusted. Every member of the union would do well to note the way we have been lied to and fobbed off”, Gordon McNeill

The three sacked airport shop stewards who called off a week long hunger and thirst strike on 11 April, after they received assurances from their union, Unite, that commitments made to them last September would be met, have resumed protest action at Transport House. In a repeat of the action that last month led to the union calling the police to remove the protestors, Gordon McNeill this morning occupied the awning at the front of the building. Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer have said they will take his place if the union has him arrested.

The previous hunger strike ended with a promise from the union that they would pay the outstanding legal bill for the long court action taken by the sacked workers against their former employer, ICTS. Unite also said that they would make an offer of compensation to the shop stewards for the hardship which the actions of the union leadership had put them through. All this was to have been done by 30 April.

The 30 April deadline passed without any movement by the Unite leadership on any of these issues. Instead, on 8 May, the shop stewards received a letter from the union solicitor which went back on all the previous promises that had been made.

On four occasions over the last eight months the Unite leadership gave firm guarantees that they will pay the legal bills and offer compensation. Their latest letter revokes all these promises. All it offers is to continue discussions which have already dragged on for years. For the first time it introduces strings and conditions on any offer. In a recent meeting with the shop stewards, Unite Irish Regional Secretary, Jimmy Kelly, made clear that, as a precondition for any settlement, he wanted a letter from the shop stewards exonerating himself and current General Secretary, Tony Woodley, for their role in the dispute.

Faced with this double dealing and intransigence the shop stewards can only conclude that the Unite leadership have never had any intention of resolving this dispute and have been stringing them along with false promises. They have therefore decided to begin an escalating campaign of public protest action to force the union leadership to stand by their earlier promises.

Gordon McNeill today explained his decision:

“I have been left with no choice but to begin a campaign of protest action to expose the treacherous and dismissive treatment we have received at the hands of Tony Woodley and other senior Unite officials. I intend to begin with an occupation of Transport House and, if the union leadership still refuses to act in a reasonable manner and grant our demands, will escalate my action to a hunger and thirst strike. My two colleagues, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer, will be supporting me in this.

“The union leadership has gone back on every promise they made to us. They have lied to us and to the public. For example when we started our hunger and thirst strike in April they immediately issued a statement to the press saying that our legal bills had been paid and that this was no longer an issue of dispute. This was a blatant lie.

“Our legal bill has still not been paid; the union has had no further discussions with our solicitor over this. There is no commitment in their 8 May letter to ever pay it.

“I have had enough of all this deception. We can only conclude that Tony Woodley has no intention of giving us justice. This can only be because he does not want the full truth about his role to ever come out. He clearly wants to cover up the fact that he told us we had no legal case and tried to bully us into accepting a rotten deal that he negotiated with ICTS.

“We have also faced paramilitary death threats. Two of us were bundled into a van at gunpoint and told to walk away from the dispute or else. We have alleged evidence that at least some of this intimidation was organised from within Transport House and have passed this evidence on to the police.

“We won’t sign any letters exonerating Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly. What we need is not a whitewash of the role of Unite leaders but a full investigation into what they have done so that every member of the union is fully informed about what has been going on.

“I regret once again having to engage in public protest action against my union leadership. I would far rather be joining with them in helping to build the union. But their on going intransigence leaves me with no choice. The actions of union officials in getting me sacked and refusing to support our legal action against our employer, ICTS, have left me with debts I can never afford to pay. It makes no difference to well paid full time officials how long this dispute drags on. But every week and month that passes I go further into debt and it is my family and especially my children who suffer.

“I know that it will be difficult to shift a leadership who are obviously determined to endlessly spin this out in the hope that we will eventually just go away. That is why we are appealing to fellow trade unionists to help us by contacting the Unite leaders and demanding that they fulfill the promises they made to us in September, and then repeated in January, and twice in April. We will not be ending this protest unless and until they do.”

Issued by Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer 15th May 2008

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May 2008