Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Two sacked airport workers (pictured here) in Northern Ireland are on hunger and thirst strike for the second time in a month in a protest now to get payment of legal costs and hardship money from their union.

Their request to the union followed their victory in a landmark Employment Tribunal judgement in Belfast last year, which was won on the grounds that they had suffered discrimination on trade union and political grounds.

Having suspended their hunger strike in April when the union agreed to pay their costs, Gordon McNeill resumed it again this week. Yesterday he was hospitalised but has since signed himself out of hospital and rejoined the action again today where he was joined by a fellow worker.

The previous hunger strike ended with a promise from the union that they would pay the outstanding legal bill for the long court action taken by the sacked workers against their former employer, ICTS (Unite). Unite also said that they would make an offer of compensation to the shop stewards for the hardship which the actions of the union leadership had put them through. All this was to have been done by 30 April.

The 30 April deadline passed without any movement by the Unite leadership on any of these issues. Instead, on 8 May, the shop stewards received a letter from the union solicitor which went back on all the previous promises that had been made.

"We have learned that nothing the Unite leadership say can be trusted. Every member of the union would do well to note the way we have been lied to and fobbed off" Gordon McNeill

The three issues at dispute are: the promise to pay outstanding legal fees for the men’s Industrial Tribunal victory, the promise to fund the costs of the appeal by the employer against this decision, and the promise to pay compensation for the hardship caused by the union’s action.

The shop stewards are now saying that, if Unite make good their promise on the first of these issues and pay the outstanding legal bill, they will suspend their action. This would mean that the money they have already paid their solicitor would be released and returned to them.

Progressive television and film producer Ken Loach points out the obvious, "It is a fundamental principal of trade unionism to support workers in struggle. This situation should never have been allowed to develop. Tony Woodley, the General Secretary, should intervene now to resolve the situation in favour of Gordon and his comrades.”

If you want to show some support there is a petition you can sign at
http://gopetition.co.uk/petitions/justice-for-sacked-belfast-airport-workers/sign.html .

The following is from lib.com

Unite hunger striker Gordon McNeill in bad shape

Gordon McNeill is now on the fourth day of a hunger and thirst strike outside Transport House in Belfast.

His health is deteriorating rapidly and visibly. A healthy person might expect to live a week or so without food and water. Gordon suffers from a heart condition and has not recovered from the previous five day hunger and thirst strike at the start of April. He has already reached a critical stage.

Gordon has made it clear that he will refuse medical treatment if he is hospitalised.

"I am going to see this through to the end. Either the Unite leadership will give me justice or I will die. That is what it has come down to. Some Unite officials have been in contact with me but all they are offering are the same assurances that they have offered countless times in the past and have then reneged on.”

Support for the shop steward now on hunger strike at Transport House is mushrooming.

The protest is a result of the union's past collaboration with the ICTS management at Belfast airport, which resulted in four shop stewards and 20 other workers being unfairly dismissed.

Last September, a Belfast employment tribunal ruled that these workers were unfairly sacked and blamed both the management and the local T&G official for bringing this about. The huge legal costs amounting to over £200,000 have been loaded on the shoulders of the four shop stewards whilst the union refused any responsibility. The tribunal ordered ICTS to pay damages, also over £200,000, but this sum has been frozen pending an appeal to the High Court by ICTS.

Because of these legal obstacles, the shop stewards are facing eviction from their homes and hugely indebted. The solicitors who acted for the workers have said they cannot act any further without these costs being met. A number of issues are involved but as a sign of good intent, the shop stewards have said that if the union pays off the outstanding legal fees, they will call off the protest.

Unfortunately, the shop stewards feel that they cannot trust the union without this concrete gesture. On four separate occasions, the union promised to settle but all of these promises have been reneged upon.

Well known actor Ricky Tomlinson today spoke out in support. "I give my full support to the shop stewards. I myself spent twenty days on hunger strike in prison and have some idea what Gordon McNeill is going through.

The Unite leadership must make good the promises they made and must do so immediately to prevent a tragedy taking place."

Prominent playwright, Jimmy McGovern has also spoken out: "Remember the way the TGWU betrayed the Liverpool dockers? I bet you thought no union could ever sink so low again. I did too. We were wrong. The way in Unite has treated the Belfast Airport workers is a disgrace. Unite's leaders should hang their heads in shame."

At a lunchtime rally at Transport House Tony Maguire brought the support of the Northern Ireland Region of the Fire Brigades Union and Frank Bunting, Regional Secretary of INTO gave his support.

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