16 November 2000 Edition

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Dockers still on strike


Dublin dockers who have been on strike for six weeks, and locked out of their work for nine weeks, are now being offered £8,000 per annum less than their previous wages to return to work.

The package, which includes a £5,000 one-off payment, was rebuffed by 27 of the 34 strikers. While they had been disappointed with the offer made by their new employers, Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB), the dock workers were infuriated by an event that occurred on Wednesday night, 8 November.

Unbeknownst to the strikers, whose picket has been confined to daytime hours, the Mersey company decided to move large machinery from their premises during the night - clandestinely breaking the strikers' picket. This inflamed the situation to the extent that the company decided to return the machine.

According to the strikers, MDHB have made a bad impression on them since their arrival earlier this year, and the company's industrial relations history in Britain has been far from pleasant.

Three years ago, Liverpool footballer Robbie Fowler brandished a T-shirt in support of the Liverpool dockers' strike. Those dockers had been duped by the British government and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.

The then Tory government, in favour of plans to privatise all port business, had allowed commercial port businesses to set up stall near government controlled ports. Liverpool dockers were aghast when MDHB, whose employees had worse pay and conditions, were allowed by the British government to take over their port. The dockers went on strike when they realised that they had been sold up the river. The employees of MDHB's newest acquisition are not about to be caught in the same trap.

MDHB arrived in Ireland without warning. Employees were not made aware of the company's takeover until the deal had been done. The workers had been in negotiations since earlier this year with their former employers, Marine Terminals Ltd., over changes in their working hours, but negotiations with MDHB soon came to a halt when the company made clear the massive changes it planned.

The concept of negotiation seemed contrary to MDHB's whole ethos, according to the strikers. It had made its decisions already. The port terminal the company now controlled on the South Bank Quay of Dublin Port was due to undergo massive changes, and workers would have to toe the line. Within a 12-month period the company hoped that the throughput would increase from 100,000 units per year to between 208,000 and 234,000 units per year. To meet this massive increase, the terminal would need to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The company then presented worker representatives with their proposals. These included a shift pattern with a proposed shift rate, the abolition of the existing weekly bonus scheme and the elimination of all demarcations. It also proposed the capping of earnings, which would result in an annual loss of £10,000 per employee. Initially, the company said that these proposals were non-negotiable.

When the SIPTU union workers rejected the proposals - and the company's refusal to negotiate - MDHB issued temporary layoff notices to all its unionised staff, to take effect on Monday 18 September. Those workers have not worked since then.

In the meantime, however, MDHB have begun negotiations with SIPTU. This is a modest achievement, according to the strikers, whose attentions by now have turned to Christmas and the oncoming onslaught on the finances it brings.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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