HUNGER-STRIKING GREEN ISLE FOODS WORKER TOLD BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE TO ‘GET OUT OF THE COUNTRY…’
Statement released today , Wednesday 3rd March 2010 by SIPTU:
History of Green Isle Foods dispute.
Workers in Green Isle Foods have embarked on a course of action not seen in Ireland for many years. Members of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) have been left on the picket line for six months by their employer and the parent company, Northern Foods in Britain.
“The basic facts.
In December 2008, a TEEU member opened a new icon on his computer entitled Boardroom. He assumed it was an information bulletin. In fact it had been sent to him by mistake instead of a senior member of management with a similar name. He did not pay much attention to the contents until a file appeared on the site in March 2009 containing restructuring proposals that involved making six TEEU members redundant.
The engineer showed his manager the file and shared the information with a number of fellow employees. When the company realised its error it insisted that all employees who may have accessed the Boardroom folder sign a document confirming that they had done so and accepting it was a serious disciplinary offence for which they faced dismissal.
The members asked their union for advice. When the TEEU sought to represent them the company refused to entertain the union. The men were suspended on full pay, while Green Isle Foods applied to the High Court for an order seeking full disclosure from the employees along with exemplary damages for breach of contract, confidentiality, interfering with the company’s business and all legal costs – including interest.
The TEEU represented the men in court and after hearing the evidence Judge Mary Laffoy recommended that the parties agree a mutually acceptable process for resolving the problem. An agreement was reached by which all suspensions were lifted, the men returned to work and they agreed to co-operate with the company investigation.
The investigation dragged on from early April until mid June 2009. Eamon Devoy, General Secretary Designate of the TEEU, eventually wrote to the company on June 17th, asking that the inquiry into ‘Boardroom’ be wound up because of the stress it was causing employees.
Instead, the company said it had begun what it claimed was a second investigation, wholly unrelated to the first, on the previous day, June 16th, into the storage of inappropriate emails on PCs. On June 18th it also issued the findings of its first investigation. This found the company IT systems were not secure or properly monitored. There was no evidence to suggest information from the Boardroom folder had been given to anyone outside the company.
Meanwhile, the company pursued its second investigation without any involvement from the TEEU, whose members refused to engage in the new process without union representation. The same individuals were investigated as in the Boardroom inquiry and, while it remains unclear if this investigation was ever concluded, the men were dismissed at the end of what had proven a very secretive process on July 10th,2009.
Their appeals were rejected on July 31st. The company rejected an offer by the Labour Relations Commission to intervene.
Having failed to find some means of resolving the dispute through negotiation, mediation and dialogue, the TEEU served strike notice on Green Isle Foods. The response of the company was to bring in strike breakers, who were in place even before pickets were mounted at the end of August 2009.
Meanwhile the other TEEU members, whose positions had been identified as redundant in the Boardroom file, received satisfactory redundancy settlements. The crucial difference was that they were employees of ESS, a subcontractor on the Green Isle Foods site which recognises unions.
Green Isle Foods has sought to portray the dispute as one involving the downloading of pornographic from the internet, but in fact the Green Isle Foods system does not allow employees access to the internet, let alone the ability to download material. In the case of two TEEU members who were dismissed, they opened unsolicited emails which had nothing to suggest the material was inappropriate. In one case the man was dismissed for failing to delete the email subsequently from his in-box although he did not show it to anyone else. The source of the unsolicited emails has never been identified by the company.
The third employee was dismissed because he brought a memory stick to work with film and video game material on it which was not pornographic images, but which the company claimed could breach copyright law if used on its equipment.
After being on the picket line for over four months the TEEU referred the dispute to the Labour Court. The Court heard the case on December 4th, 2009. The company refused to attend, saying it did not recognise unions and therefore the Labour Court was an appropriate forum to resolve the dispute. Nevertheless it was represented at the hearing by IBEC.
The Court issued a recommendation on December 8th, 2009, stating it was satisfied the dismissals were unjustified, that there should be an immediate return to work, full reinstatement of the men and compensation for loss of earnings. In the event that this was not acceptable to the two sides the Court recommended that they should agree, through a third party if necessary, on a compensation package for the men.
When the company rejected this proposal the Court recommended, on January 5th, 2010, that the sacked men receive €40,000, €60,000 and €80,000 respectively, reflecting their lengths of service (seven, 10 and 16 years), if they were not reinstated as previously recommended.
When the company continued to ignore the Labour Court recommendations, the shop stewards, Jim Wyse and Declan Shannon, requested meetings with the company locally to resolve the dispute through direct talks. They even offered to negotiate on the Labour Court terms. Management met them briefly for a few minutes on three occasions over four weeks but did not even bother to make a note of the men’s proposals before rejecting them.
It was after this final rebuff that the workers decided to adopt a hunger strike strategy. They had spent six months on the picket line during the worst winter weather for 40 years and their families were experiencing extreme economic hardship. They felt it was the last means available to bring pressure to bear on a company that was impervious to all the normal rules of industrial relations or common decency.
Jim Wyse became the first hunger striker on February 17th. He volunteered to go first because it was his suggestion. John Guinan joined him on February 24th.
John Recto, joined the Green Isle Foods hunger strike today (Wednesday March 3rd).
Some hours before he joined Jim Wyse and John Guinan on hunger strike, John Recto was asked call into Naas Garda Station, where he was informed that his work visa has been revoked. He was told he has until March 8th to leave the country. He is from the Philippines and has been working at Green Isle Foods for the past three years.
His wife and three children, aged six, seven and one year old, are living with him in Naas. His youngest child was born in Ireland.”
To a certain extent , this is the fault of those that work for a wage and the overall Trade Union movement. All involved with this blog work outside (and inside) the home , for a wage , and are union members : in recent years we have been financially victimised by been forced to pay higher direct and indirect (‘stealth’) taxes , have seen our terms and conditions in the workplace suffer and most of us have had our take-home pay reduced by between €25 and €50 per week , with some workers losing even more per week than that top figure. And we are still expected to work the same number of hours (39 , in our case) that we worked before those deductions were forced on us at source. All this because the greedy , incompetent and useless bastards in Leinster House need billions of Euro to bail-out their business , banking and property-speculating colleagues , who are equally just as greedy , incompetent and useless.
It is as much the fault of the Trade Union movement because they have become ‘soft’ and over-friendly with both groups of useless bastards mentioned above : in truth , the Trade Union leadership have more in common – and not only in relation to the money they ‘earn’ – with those two groups in that they lack the moral courage to stand-by their (stated) convictions and alleged intention – to protect that what we already have , in the workplace, and to seek to improve conditions for the working class. We , the tax-paying working class , have been sold out four times over- by ourselves , for not only not whole-heartedly fighting back but for not actually leaving blood on the streets in our attempt to do so , by (surprise,surprise) the self-serving and (pension-)time-serving millionaire politicians in this State , by (again-surprise,surprise) the business owners , bosses and management and , finally , by ‘our’ trade union movement.
We should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves.