Sacked airport shop stewards to re-commence hunger strike at Transport House

PRESS RELEASE 5th April 2008

Union leaders accused of reneging on promises and commitments given to workers

The two shop stewards have pledged that “we will not call off our hunger strike until we have firm commitments from Tony Woodley that he cannot wriggle out of.”

Two of the shop stewards who were sacked six years ago by airport security company, ICTS, are to begin a hunger strike at Transport House in Belfast on Monday 7 April, demanding that their union, Unite (formerly the TGWU) honour commitments made to them last summer.

Gordon McNeill and Madan Gupta have pledged that they will remain on hunger strike until their demands are fully met.

Last September a hunger strike and rooftop protest at Transport House was called off only after Tony Woodley, Unite General Secretary, agreed that the workers’ demands would be met within seven days.

He agreed that the union would pay the £200,000 in legal costs arising from the long court battle which the workers had to fight against ICTS without any support from their union. The workers won this battle, securing last August a landmark legal decision that found they had been sacked because of their trade union opinion and socialist political beliefs.

Tony Woodley also committed the union to pay the costs of defending this decision against any appeal by ICTS. He also promised that the union would pay damages to cover the financial and other hardship these workers have suffered. This was in recognition of the fact that, as was proven in court, senior union officials colluded with ICTS to have 24 of their members, including all their shop stewards sacked. Irish regional secretary, Jimmy Kelly, also made these commitments.

Not one of the commitments made last August has been met. This is why the two shop stewards, backed by their colleague, Chris Bowyer, have decided to resume their protest and have stated that this time “we will only call off our hunger strike when we have firm commitments from Tony Woodley that he cannot wriggle out of.”

Gordon McNeill explains:

“We are taking this drastic action because the leadership of our union have left us with no alternative. All we are asking for is justice. When Tony Woodley promised last September to meet our legal bill and provide compensation, that was an admission that the union was at fault in getting us sacked and in refusing to back our fight over six years.

“We accepted his word and called off our action. We soon discovered that the word of Tony Woodley and other senior leaders of this union is worthless.

“Not one of the promises they made have been kept. We have been left to pay half of our £200,000 legal bill, an impossible amount for low paid workers who found themselves out of work because we were betrayed by our union.

“ICTS are appealing the Tribunal decision and the union have not honoured their commitment to cover the costs. Our legal team have told us they are going to pull out of the case because the union will not put up the money to fight it.

”This means that ICTS can win the case by default. A victory we won for all trade unionists last year could be reversed because the leaders of Unite are about to present ICTS with an legal open goal.

“As to the promise to compensate us for their role in colluding with ICTS to get us sacked, not a penny has been offered or given.

“We are now demanding that all the commitments made last September by Tony Woodley and other senior Unite officials, including the senior regional officials in Ireland, be met in full. We also want a public inquiry set up to examine the union’s handling of this dispute from day one until now.

“We are not entering into this protest lightly. Madan Gupta is 72 years old and suffers from diabetes. I am 38, but in poor health with a heart condition. We know the consequences of starting what this time is likely to be a protracted hunger strike but we are absolutely determined to face the consequences.

“As we have said repeatedly over the last six years, we are not anti-trade union. We are committed trade unionists and want to see strong unions that are able to defend the interests of their members. It is the rotten role played by trade union leaders, as in our dispute, which disillusion workers and weaken the unions.

“ICTS thought we would just go away but we stuck it out and won an important victory against them. Tony Woodley and the Unite leadership should not make the same mistake and think that, because we are just ordinary workers from Northern Ireland, that they can walk all over us. Our struggle will continue until justice is done.”

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