Eamonn Rothwell, Managing Director of Irish Ferries, plans to get rid of 543 workers and replace them with migrants on ¤3.50 per hour. Rothwell earned ¤687,000 last year. That's ¤338.00 an hour. But there is no talk about replacing him with a yellow pack boss from Eastern Europe!
Our so-called 'social partners', government and IBEC are not complaining about his wages. Yet again it is ordinary workers who are being screwed to boost the profits of big business.
Bertie Ahern pretended to be sympathetic when he said that the company was engaging in "sharp practice". This is just empty guff designed to stop vote losses. The truth is that Bertie Ahern and his government support what Irish Ferries are doing.
His fellow cabinet member Tom Parlon said that new employees of Irish Ferries would be better off than they would be in their own country because they would be getting ¤3.50 an hour and their board and lodging!
This government has encouraged migrant workers to come to Ireland not just because there is a labour shortage but also so that business can underpay and use them to drive down wage levels. We have no argument with fellow workers from abroad, we simply want everyone to get the union rate for the job.
SIPTU cannot sort this out with court cases nor with appeals to the government. A strike to shut down Irish Ferries would give Rothwell and his pals something to think about. A commitment by trade unionists in the ports of Ireland, Britain and France to refuse to handle its ships would quickly bring a halt to their gallop.
Our unions have the power to shut down Irish Ferries until they agree to employ all of their staff on trade union rates of pay. However, doing this would bring our unions into conflict with the law. The Industrial Relations Act makes solidarity action unlawful.
This is a big step to take but the choice is simple: break the law or allow the bosses to break our unions. If we let Irish Ferries get away with it, other bosses will, naturally, copy them. Many more jobs will be in danger.
On the other hand, if our unions give Irish Ferries management a bloody nose, other bosses will learn a lesson and back off.
For related articles see Workplace struggles and the unions
This edition is No89 published in Nov 2005