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17 November 2005 Edition

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Irish Ferries Pressure on Ahern as Labour Court backs workers

BY Justin Moran

A Labour Court decision this week vindicating SIPTU and the Seamen's Union of Ireland and the immediate rejection of the Court's recommendations by Irish Ferries has put the focus back on the Government's position.

While the outsourcing plan proposed by Irish Ferries has been condemned by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, his options for ducking the issue any further are fast disappearing as a result of the refusal of the company to accept recommendations. Ahern has repeatedly insisted there is no legislative solution to the crisis and has contended himself with ineffective pleading to Irish Ferries to accept the Court's recommendation.

Speaking in Leinster House on Tuesday, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Worker's Rights Arthur Morgan TD demanded that the Taoiseach make a statement denouncing the company's rejection of the decision. "In light of the rejection by, Irish Ferries, of the Labour Court recommendations, the Government must accept that there is an increased onus on it to work for the introduction of a Ferries Directive to protect workers on board ferries from exploitation by unscrupulous employers such as Irish Ferries."

Earlier the Louth TD had welcomed the Labour Court's decision. "The findings of the Labour Court vindicate the case being made by the workers at Irish Ferries. These findings are very significant because they make clear that employers such as Irish Ferries cannot make and break agreements at will after the workers have upheld their side of the agreement — in this case it involved accepting outsourcing on board the Normandy in exchange for maintenance of normal staffing on the Irish Sea routes till 2007.

"This ruling also undermines claims by Irish Ferries that the future viability of the company is dependent on proceeding with these measures. The company was unable to prove this case to the Labour Court."

Sinn Féin Chairperson and Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has written to Eamon Rothwell of Irish Ferries requesting a meeting in the wake of the Labour Court's decision.

Earlier in the week Ms McDonald raised the Irish Ferries dispute in the European Parliament telling MEPs, "This practice of 'social dumping' is wholly unacceptable. The European Union has a responsibility and a duty of care to protect the rights of all workers, including seafarers who work European waters. The wage rates and secondary benefits afforded to seafarers must be in line with those applicable in the relevant member states.

"Irish Ferries must honour their agreements with workers and trade unions in the company. There is no case for breaking those agreements."

The company's rejection adds to the pressure on the Government's shaky social partnership model. The unions have made absolutely clear their opposition to entering into talks on a new deal in the event of Irish Ferries going ahead with this deal while the Government appear reluctant to take any proactive measures.

The question at the centre of the confrontation now is whether, and how, the Government is prepared to stand up to Irish Ferries, and what implications a failure to do so will have for the state's industrial relations policy.

As a spokesperson for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said yesterday, "It's an issue of political imagination and political will." If so, the chances of a Government devoid of either standing up to the company, openly and aggressively backed by the employer's group IBEC, must be minimal, and the Social Partnership model doomed to collapse.

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