2 December 2004 Edition
Dock workers sacked in run-up to Christmas
A freight and ferry company in Dublin has sacked eight men, a month before Christmas, because the overtired workers refused to work a night's overtime.
NorseMerchant Ferries, an English company with a branch in Dublin, fired the men last Friday. A source within the company, who doesn't want to be named in case he too is dismissed, told An Phoblacht this week that the men, who work as general terminal operatives, had been working 50-hour weeks for the past year and a half, and last Friday put their foot down, believing that their health and safety was being put at risk.
Our source told us that a year and a half ago, the company went into administration (near bankruptcy), and the workers rallied around to help get it back on its feet.
"Before, our shifts added up to about 37 hours a week," he said. "But we were all working 50-plus hours a week to get things back to normal. Unfortunately, by the time the company got back on its feet, it had started to think that these shifts were normal hours."
The men who were sacked were all involved in heavy manual labour. On the night in question, they were told not to start their shift at 3pm as usual, but to come in at 6pm. Then at 9pm, they were told a boat would be coming in at 1.30am, which they were required to unload.
"A ship coming in at that time would mean the men wouldn't be finished until after six in the morning," our source said. "The men were really sick when they heard this and they approached their foreman and said it was too much. Basically they, like the rest of us, were fed-up not knowing when they were going to finish their shifts, and more importantly, they were shattered tired from consistently working overtime."
The men had also been shaken by an accident that had happened in the docks that day, when a contract worker for the company had driven into one of their workmates. When this was logged in the accident book, it was noted that the man who caused the incident had only had a ten-minute break in an eleven-hour shift.
"That book has since gone missing," An Phoblacht was told. "But all of those things led to the men going to their supervisors and saying they just couldn't do the work. It was one night in a year and a half, and the company turned around and said: 'You either do it or your sacked'."
The men are now in an appeals process with the company and will decide later this week whether to go on strike. Unfortunately, they feel restricted in what they can do because of a threat the company has made not to pay the Christmas bonuses (around €5,000) due to each of them.
"When they were sacked they were not given pay in lieu or anything," our source said. "Now they are afraid they won't get their bonus money.
"The lads here want to go on strike in support of them, because it could have happened to any of us, but striking is not always the best method on the docks, because the companies usually bring in contractors from England. They've already brought in men to replace the eight and are putting them up in Clontarf Court Hotel at the moment. We're also afraid that we might lose our bonus as well."
When contacted, NorseMerchant Ferries told us that they did not feel it appropriate to comment on the situation as the men were currently in an appeals process.
But one of the sacked workers, who spoke to us on Tuesday, said: "They know they have treated us disgracefully. We stood by that company when it was going bankrupt and this is how they repay us. I was sacked by a letter sent in a taxi, and told I was guilty of gross misconduct, all because I was too tired to work more overtime. I'm not surprised they don't want to comment on that."