Northern Ireland: Sacked airport shop stewards win historic victory in Court of Appeal

“Judgement strengthens all trade union members”

The following press release was issued today by sacked Belfast airport worker, Gordon McNeill.

Sacked airport shop stewards win historic victory in Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal has issued its judgement on the case of the Belfast airport shop stewards who were sacked in 2002 by airport security firm, ICTS, after they had organised a strike over pay.

The judgement upholds the Fair Employment Tribunal 2007 ruling that ICTS discriminated against the shop stewards on political grounds, sacking them for their trade union and socialist political beliefs. The Court of Appeal judgement reinforces the original decision and means that this case has now set new law which can be used to the benefit of millions of workers throughout Britain.

Employers who sack trade union members may now face claims of political discrimination as well as unfair dismissal claims. Discrimination claims do not have the ceiling on damages that apply to unfair dismissal claims.

The ruling applies to four shop stewards, Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer or Unite and Malcolm Spencer of GMB.

Gordon McNeill today said:

"This judgement is an important victory for the whole trade union movement and a blow to anti trade union, low pay employers like ICTS. We have shown that ICTS set out to sack us because we were prepared to stand up for our members on pay, on conditions of employment and on other issues. They were determined to get rid of us because of our attitude and outlook as determined trade unionists. The Court of Appeal upheld our view that they therefore sacked us because of our political outlook.

"This really is a David versus Goliath case because we, as shop stewards, have had to fight this battle against a powerful international company on our own with no help from our union, the T&GWU/Unite. It took a series of hunger strikes and very public protests to get Unite to even fulfill their commitments to meet our legal bill and to offer to fund the appeal. The victory we have won means that there are no costs for the appeal as they have been awarded against ICTS.

"I am disappointed that the Unite leadership do not appear to fully appreciate the importance of this decision or how it can be used to benefit other union members. They did promise to launch a campaign to support this appeal. Sadly there has been no such campaign. No one from Unite was even present at the hearing.

"The Unite leadership would prefer to bury this whole issue. That is why they have offered us "compensation" if we sign up to a gagging clause forbidding us to ever speak about the dispute again. I will not sign up to any such deal. It is important that the full facts of this dispute are made public and the lessons drawn so that what happened to us does not happen to anyone else. Trade union members, and the public as a whole, have a right to know what happened."

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June 2008