2 October 2003 Edition
Brickies laid off for cheap imported labour
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
Twenty-six workers at a site in Ballymun, Dublin, are making a stand against what they say is discrimination by their employers. The men, all bricklayers, are employed by GAMA Construction Ireland Ltd. The company is currently constructing houses for a number of Dublin councils and for Ballymun Regeneration Ltd.
The only significant category of Irish labour originally employed by the company was bricklayers. The majority of workers on site have been brought in from Turkey.
When the company won the contract to build houses in Ballymun, it had planned to use traditional building methods. Bricklayers were duly hired and have been working on the construction projects. However, GAMA has now requested that the original plans and specifications for forthcoming projects be redesigned to eliminate bricks (and hence bricklayers), in favour of concrete and pre-cast panels. This work will be carried out by carpenters brought in from Turkey.
An Phoblacht met some of the bricklayers and their union representative, Brendan O'Sullivan, on the Ballymun site last Tuesday. We were surprised when we were told by the workers that all the half-built houses we saw are to be demolished when the company's new plans come into effect.
"The men here are very demoralised," Tommy Boyle, one of the workers, told us. "They have been working here since April and now all their work is going to be levelled."
Brendan O'Sullivan quickly filled us in on the background to what's happening on the site.
"Out of 600 workers employed by GAMA in Ballymun, these are the only Irish workers remaining," he said. "They were told that their jobs would be going shortly and that more Turkish workers would be coming in to take over. They've been offered no lay-off money, just out and out terminations."
Brendan said his members feel that the imported workers are being used by the developers as cheap labour.
"The lads never had a problem with the lads from other countries working here," he said. "The issues they have are that these workers are being used as non-union cheap labour. The Irish lads are being shafted, the Turkish lads are being shafted and the only people benefiting are the developers.
"We are used to seeing lay-offs in the building industry and that's fine when it is legitimate," Brendan added. "But this is an unnecessary lay-off being orchestrated by GAMA."
BATU says it was misled by the construction company, which at first claimed that the terminations were due to a variety of other reasons.
An Phoblacht tried to contact GAMA on Tuesday afternoon to get a response. Our efforts were unsuccessful, however. Our original contact would not take the call after we disclosed that we were a newspaper and eventually we gave up after being transferred to a fourth person who said they couldn't speak English.
BATU has contacted local representatives in the area to ask for assistance in dealing with the lay-offs. Sinn Féin Councillor Nicky Kehoe has already put a question to Dublin City Council asking about the local employment scheme and Councillor Dessie Ellis has expressed his concern that all workers should be treated fairly and reminded BRL of the commitment made that local people would be employed on projects in the area.
The union is planning to hold a protest at the Ballymun Regeneration Ltd offices in Ballymun today, Thursday, at 3pm.
Brendan said that all the major unions and construction companies throughout Ireland are paying close attention to what's happening at GAMA.
"This is a huge matter for the construction industry in Ireland," he said. "GAMA won this contract because they offered the lowest rates to the Irish government, which is paying for the whole project. That's absolutely fine, but if they were able to offer the lowest contract because they intended using cheap labour, and if they are allowed to treat their unionised workers in this way, then there could be upheaval in the market."