Issue 3-2023-200dpi

12 February 1998 Edition

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Workers in struggle: Ryanair strike escalates

Finally after weeks of hedging, denial and disinformation Ryanair chief executive Maurice O'Leary broke his silence on the dispute at the company and took to the airwaves to make his case.

Speaking on the Pat Kenny and Eamon Dunphy radio shows O'Leary claimed that no flights have been disrupted since the dispute with SIPTU baggage handlers and ground staff began over five weeks ago.

O'Leary claimed the majority of the baggage handlers were working normally and that the majority of staff did not want union recognition. O'Leary also said, ``We have given an undertaking to staff that if they negotiate directly with us we will keep their pay ahead of their competitors''.

SIPTU representative Paul O'Sullivan told An Phoblacht that he was surprised when O'Leary described Ryanair as a ``high productivity, high pay company''.

Ryanair has refused to attend Labour Court hearings on the dispute which centres around Ryanair's refusal to recognise the workers' right to be represented by SIPTU. SIPTU did attend the Labour Court who, in a statement on the proceedings, released information which showed, according to Paul O'Sullivan, that SIPTU's Ryanair members ``were paid substantially less than British Midland, Servisair and Aer Lingus''.

Last weekend SIPTU members escalated their industrial action with their first full day stoppage at Dublin airport. On Monday 9 February a meeting of unions representing aviation workers unanimously agreed to discuss with their own members ways of supporting the Ryanair baggage handlers. The ICTU praised the SIPTU members for standing up to the ``bullying and psychological warfare'' of management. Today in Leinster House a debate on the issue will be held.

For a solution to this dispute two core issues have to be found. These are that the right to join a union and be represented by that union in negotiations with your employer must be upheld. Workers must also have recognised the right to a share in their company's profits. Michael O'Leary has a shareholding in Ryanair worth over £70 million, and earnings over the last three years of £17 million.

Paul Donnelly, Sinn Féin's representative in the upcoming Dublin North by-election, called on the Dublin Government to intervene. He said ``a private company should not be allowed to ignore the rights of workers and the laws of the state without sanction. The Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat Coalition can solve this dispute. They must act now''.

Rail talks walkout

The troubled negotiations between management and unions at Iarnród Eireann on the company's proposed viability plans hit a further snag this week when SIPTU representatives pulled out of the talks.

SIPTU's grievance was management's refusal to honour existing agreements whereby temporary employees are made fulltime workers at the company. Up to 250 temporary workers who have worked in Iarnród Eireann for over 12 months are still not permanently employed at the company.

The National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) has remained at the talks which were supposed to be concluded before the end of 1997. An Phoblacht spoke to the NBRU's Liam Cahill who said his union wanted the talks finalised but the NBRU wanted to ``protect the earnings of his members'' and create the working conditions where they can enjoy ``quality time off''.

The current situation was, according to Cahill, one where NBRU members worked compulsory overtime. His union's objective was to end this practice and restore the principle of a five day week at Iarnród Eireann but maintain the earning power of railworkers at an acceptable level.

Unions at the compnay have submitted their own proposals for cost savings which are being assessed by Coopers and Lybrand. An end to the talks is now not likely until late spring.

Running to stand still

26-County unemployment figures for January 1998 released last week showed the lowest level of joblessness for seven years. 241,400 people signed on at social welfare offices during January. The figures do not take account of the prospective closures at Seagate and AST.

What merits more concern is the fact that the current unemployment figures are exactly where they were in 1991 despite seven years of record economic growth and profitability. The Celtic Tiger is means little for nearly a quarter of million people and their families. The 26-County economy is effectively running to stand still.

Mike Allen, general secretary of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, welcomed the fall in the jobless figures. But he questioned aspects of what type of work the unemployed were returning to.''These figures don't tell us what jobs people got when they left the live register or what pay they are receiving'' he said.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1