24 November 2005 Edition
Rally threat halts the race to the bottom
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
Victory - Doyle Concrete workers
Last week workers at Doyle Concrete in Kildare won an important victory. The family-owned company at Cappanargid, outside Rathangan in Kildare, had brought in Eastern European workers, on changed pay and conditions, to replace workers who have been forced to take obligatory redundancy. The company refused to recognise or negotiate with the union. But now the company has backed down, and settled the six-week-old strike two days before a rally in the town, in support of striking workers.
The dispute began at the start of October. Management at Doyle Concrete made four people compulsorily redundant, on disgracefully bad redundancy terms; took on new labour; cut starting rates of pay by a third, and imposed new conditions of work.
One of those made compulsorily redundant had been 33 years in the job, the others 15 years each. They have been offered a shameful redundancy package of two weeks per year of service plus a €100 gratuity.
Starting rates of pay fell from €13 to €8.50 per hour. But as one striker points out "workers must get the same pay for the same job — Anything else is discrimination". There was no sick pay, no overtime pay, working hours rose for the new employees from 40 hours to 50 hours, with many doing 60 hours a week at flat rate.
Eleven foreign workers at lower rates of pay were taken on, three in Doyle's Concrete and eight in Steelite.
Management employed what is normally the old tax dodge of two companies, declared to be separate, but in fact one and the same, sacking workers in one, and employing new workers in the other. The two adjacent companies, sharing directors and management are Doyle Concrete and Steelite Ltd.
Labour Court snubbed
SIPTU referred the dispute to the Labour Court on 21 October and the hearing was held on 2 November. The Court recommended that workers get redundancy of five weeks per year of service and that there be negotiation over the criteria for the selection of employees to be made redundant and that those declared redundant be reinstated. Finally it found that the established rates of pay for new employees be restored, pending negotiations with workers.
The union accepted the recommendations but the company refused to implement the decision and went to the High Court to apply for an injunction against the striking workers.
Resort to Injunction
The company's demands were Alice in Wonderland stuff. They included "to restrain the defendants from watching the plaintiff's property, inciting, instructing, inducing, procuring, persuading, organising financing, or informing people of existence of a trade dispute, or in any manner facilitating picketing..."
Amazingly, in an affidavit, Billy Doyle, the Managing Director of Steelite Ltd, who is also Managing Director of Doyle Concrete Ltd, claimed that the two companies, though sharing a common entrance, phone number and transport system are "entirely separate and completely independent" of each other.
Similarly, Catherine Marshall, sister of Billy Doyle, who is Company Director/Secretary of Steelite Ltd, and also Director/ Company Secretary of Doyle Concrete, claimed that there is "no association between these two companies".
The company won a temporary injunction and a hearing to have the injunction made permanent was to be held on Monday of this week. But on Friday 18 November Doyle Concrete agreed to accept the conditions of the Labour Relations Court, and thereby conceded to negotiate with the union on future issues.
Arrogance of Management
Picketers were angry at the disrespect and arrogance of their treatment by the Doyle family. "Do they think that they can claim legal right to ignore the Labour Court recommendations, or deny us our long established rights?" one worker said to An Phoblacht before the dispute was resolved.
"If needs be we will go to jail," he added, "like the Rossport 5 did. We are not going to be bullied, threatened, or forced to work in bad, or unhealthy conditions."
Race to the Bottom
As Sinn Féin spokesperson on Workers' Rights Arthur Morgan TD said in Leinster House: "Companies, no doubt taking a lead from Irish Ferries, are engaging in a widespread attack on workers' rights, pay and conditions, by replacing their staff with cheaper labour, from the new EU entrants, in a race to the bottom, which threatens all workers."
"And Bertie wonders why Sinn Féin is drawing support," comments local Sinn Féin activist Cristín McAuley, who supported the picketers throughout. "We are the people standing up with workers who are struggling against the arrogance of the few who believe this island was made for them."
Threat of Rally
With the threat of a rally in the town last Sunday, the Doyle family got the message and settled the strike. The workers voted to end the strike just hours before a support night was to be held to help the strikers, who'd had to live on €125 strike pay over the previous six weeks.
The fundraiser turned into a victory celebration where one speaker for the workers quoted Joe Cahill: "We have won the war. We must now win the peace."