7 October 1999 Edition

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12 picketers arrested at Leinster House

Ireland 1999 - workers go to Jail, tax cheats go free


The gardai moved in on Leinster House this week and made some arrests. No it wasn't a case of taking action on Ansbacher account holders or such like, the arrests were of 12 building workers picketing the construction site for the extension to government buildings.

Unofficial pickets have been placed at the site since April in a dispute about the use of subcontractors by the builders McNamara & Co. Bricklayers at the site wanted to be taken on as direct labour. They believe this guarantees not only being properly paid and making PAYE and PRSI contributions, but also getting basic rights such as holiday and sick pay, while being able to build up pension contributions.

The picketers also believe that the decline in site safety and the huge increase in building industry fatalities in the 26 Counties have been caused by the increasing use of sub contractors on building sites. They maintain that McNamara is the only one of the top ten building contractors in Dublin not hiring bricklayers as direct labour.

McNamara refuses to recognise that there is a dispute actually going on despite the presence of daily pickets at the site. Other sites run by the company at Trinity College, Beaumont Hospital and City West have also been picketed.

The pickets at Leinster House have been relatively successful with mainstream suppliers not crossing the picket line. This week's arrests happened after the picketers blocked the exit of a truck hired directly by McNamara to deliver concrete.

Neville Farrelly, the chairperson of the Dublin bricklayers branch of the Building and Allied Trades Union (BATU) who has been on the pickets in a personal capacity told An Phoblacht that there seemed to be a police presence to order when deliveries were being made to the site. He said that since the dispute began union members have been threatened and intimidated.

Union officials had received threatening phone calls, while being followed from union meetings and videotaped. One union official found a petrol bomb under his car before leaving for work one morning.

A BATU official told An Phoblacht that the union has ``been available and anxious to use our influence and offices to resolve this issue''. The company had agreed to attend a Labour Relations Commission meeting but withdrew.

BATU has been served with injunctions under the 1990 Industrial Relations Act while those arrested this week were detained under the Public Order Act.

When both these acts came into law, Sinn Féin warned that these pieces of legislation would be used to undermine the rights of workers. The McNamara dispute is yet another example of the two-tier nature of the law in the 26 Counties when it comes to upholding workers rights.

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin O Caoláin said in a statement: ``These arrests were a disgrace. At a time when there are daily revelations of how the wealthiest in our country defrauded their fellow citizens with total impunity, we have workers being arrested on a picket line. The demand of the construction workers for direct employment should be fully supported.''

Nicky Kehoe, a bricklayer and Sinn Féin councillor, has called on Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy to urge McNamara to initiate negotiations between themselves and BATU. McCreevy is the minister responsible for the Office of Public Works, which oversees government buildings.

Kehoe said: ``Construction workers are fed up with contractors supporting the black economy at their expense. Large companies seem obsessed with scrambling for profits, while the safety and conditions of trades people is being sacrificed.''

A motion introduced at Dublin Corporation by Kehoe did not receive enough support from the other parties to be carried.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1