Previous press releases issued by the Sacked Belfast Airport Workers
Press Release – Tuesday 20th May
Transport House hunger strike enters sixth day
Gordon McNeill signs himself out of hospital and has rejoined the protest
Film director Ken Loach gives full support
Unite leadership refuse to talk
Gordon McNeill, who collapsed yesterday after almost six days without food and water, has signed himself out of hospital and rejoined Chris Bowyer on the Transport House balcony.
Gordon, not fully aware of what was happening to him, was given fluids in hospital. He remains on hunger strike but will now take water.
Gordon McNeill will take water. Chris Bowyer is taking water and other liquids.
Support for the protest is flooding in. Film director Ken Loach this morning added his voice in support. He said:
“What will it take for the Unite leadership to deal fairly with Gordon NcNeill and the Belfast Airport Workers.
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”
Yesterday the shop stewards said they would suspend the protest if the union settled just one of the three issues in dispute and made good their eight month old promise to pay the outstanding legal costs from their court victory over their employer, ICTS.
Unite have responded by saying they will have no talks and make no offers while the protest continues.
This means that Unite have now publicly gone back on their previous verbal promise to pay the legal fees and to pay the costs of defending an appeal.
Gordon McNeill today responded:
“The response from Tony Woodley is no surprise to me. Yesterday proved that he would rather see us die than lose face over this.
“Tony Woodley and Irish Regional Secretary, Jimmy Kelly, say they wont talk if we are on protest. But after they promised to pay our bills last September we didn’t protest. And they would not talk to us or make any move to fulfil their promises. They won’t talk if we protest and they wont talk if we don’t. It’s a case of heads they win and tails we lose.
“All they have to do is pay the legal fees as they had agreed so that the £40,000 we have paid to our solicitor will be given back to us and the protest will be suspended. We would see this as a gesture of good faith and would negotiate on the other issues.”
URGENT PRESS RELEASE – Thursday 15th May
Airport Workers Update: Gordon McNeill begins Hunger and Thirst Strike
Gordon McNeill who began a protest and occupation of Transport House today at 1.30pm has now escalated his action to a hunger and thirst strike.
This action was prompted after Unite, the union, have refused to pay legal fees they had initially agreed to pay on 11th April. Mr McNeill’s action is down to the intransigence of the Unite leadership in dealing with his case.
The other sacked shop stewards, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer, will remain with Mr McNeill during his hunger and thirst strike to give support.
Mr McNeill stated today, “The responsibility for any serious implications from my hunger and thirst strike lie solely Jimmy Kelly and Tony Woodley. I would call on all Unite members to challenge the union on their disgraceful role in this dispute.”
After Mr McNeill’s initial hunger strike at the start of April doctors warned that any further action of this sort could cause even more damage to his health. The previous hunger strike was called off after Unite gave assurances through the airport workers solicitor that they would pay legal fees and agree compensation by the 30th April. This deadline and a second on the 6th May passed without the union giving any such offer.
Instead Jimmy Kelly met with the airport workers on the 3rd May and for the first time attached strings to any future offer. Mr Kelly demanded that a letter exonerating both himself and Tony Woodley must be provided by the workers and the workers must agree to a confidentially clause.
So far the sacked Belfast airport workers have had to endure an anti-union employer, a sell out union official, paramilitary death threats and must now endure another hunger and thirst strike.
Fintan Canavan, the Solicitor who has been involved in negotiating with the union, and who can confirm that they have reneged on the commitments they gave to end the April hunger strike, can be contacted at 028 9024 5471
Issued by Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer 15th May 2008
Gordon McNeill can be contacted at 07934632366
Sacked airport workers to recommence protest at Transport House
Press Release – Thurs 15th May 2008
Unite leadership go back on their promises to pay legal fees and compensate the sacked shop stewards
“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”
The three sacked airport shop stewards who called off a week long hunger and thirst strike on 11 April, after they received assurances from their union, Unite, that commitments made to them last September would be met, have resumed protest action at Transport House. In a repeat of the action that last month led to the union calling the police to remove the protestors, Gordon McNeill this morning occupied the awning at the front of the building. Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer have said they will take his place if the union has him arrested.
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 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.
On four occasions over the last eight months the Unite leadership gave firm guarantees that they will pay the legal bills and offer compensation. Their latest letter revokes all these promises. All it offers is to continue discussions which have already dragged on for years. For the first time it introduces strings and conditions on any offer. In a recent meeting with the shop stewards, Unite Irish Regional Secretary, Jimmy Kelly, made clear that, as a precondition for any settlement, he wanted a letter from the shop stewards exonerating himself and current General Secretary, Tony Woodley, for their role in the dispute.
Faced with this double dealing and intransigence the shop stewards can only conclude that the Unite leadership have never had any intention of resolving this dispute and have been stringing them along with false promises. They have therefore decided to begin an escalating campaign of public protest action to force the union leadership to stand by their earlier promises.
Gordon McNeill today explained his decision:
“I have been left with no choice but to begin a campaign of protest action to expose the treacherous and dismissive treatment we have received at the hands of Tony Woodley and other senior Unite officials. I intend to begin with an occupation of Transport House and, if the union leadership still refuse to act in a reasonable manner and grant our demands, will escalate my action to a hunger and thirst strike. My two colleagues, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer, will be supporting me in this.
The union leadership has gone back on every promise they made to us. They have lied to us and to the public. For example when we started our hunger and thirst strike in April they immediately issued a statement to the press saying that our legal bills had been paid and that this was no longer an issue of dispute. This was a blatant lie.
“Our legal bill has still not been paid; the union has had no further discussions with our solicitor over this. There is no commitment in their 8 May letter to ever pay it.
“I have had enough of all this deception. We can only conclude that Tony Woodley has no intention of giving us justice. This can only be because he does not want the full truth about his role to ever come out. He clearly wants to cover up the fact that he told us we had no legal case and tried to bully us into accepting a rotten deal that he negotiated with ICTS.
“We have also faced paramilitary death threats. Two of us were bundled into a van at gunpoint and told to walk away from the dispute or else. We have alleged evidence that at least some of this intimidation was organised from within Transport House and have passed this evidence on to the police.
“We won’t sign any letters exonerating Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly. What we need is not a whitewash of the role of Unite leaders but a full investigation into what they have done so that every member of the union is fully informed about what has been going on.
“I regret once again having to engage in public protest action against my union leadership. I would far rather be joining with them in helping to build the union. But their on going intransigence leaves me with no choice. The actions of union officials in getting me sacked and refusing to support our legal action against our employer, ICTS, have left me with debts I can never afford to pay. It makes no difference to well paid full time officials how long this dispute drags on. But every week and month that passes I go further into debt and it is my family and especially my children who suffer.
“I know that it will be difficult to shift a leadership who are obviously determined to endlessly spin this out in the hope that we will eventually just go away. That is why we are appealing to fellow trade unionists to help us by contacting the Unite leaders and demanding that they fulfill the promises they made to us in September, and then repeated in January, and twice in April. We will not be ending this protest unless and until they do.”
Issued by Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer 15th May 2008
Gordon McNeill can be contacted at 07934632366
Airport workers suspend hunger strike after union gives guarantees that their demands will be met
11 April 2008
The five day hunger strike by three sacked airport shop stewards, Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer was suspended at 5.30 this afternoon after the workers received a letter from the union solicitors guaranteeing that their demands would be met.
The workers were forced to resort to the drastic step of a hunger strike because their union, Unite, had reneged on commitments given to them last September. These were that the union would pay the legal costs of their long running Industrial Tribunal case against their employer, ICTS, and would also meet the costs of defending the Industrial Tribunal ruling should ICTS appeal the decision. The union also promised to offer them compensation for its role in co-operating with ICTS to have them sacked.The hunger strike has now been suspended because the union has guaranteed to meet the full legal costs and have opened up negotiations on compensation with a guarantee that this will be settled by the end of April.
Sacked shop stewards Gordon McNeill commented at the end of the hunger strike: “We are suspending our action because we now have a firm commitment from the union that they will implement the promises they made last September. We also have a date by which all the issues of dispute should be resolved.
“We see this as a total vindication of the stand that we have made. Our only regret is that we had to resort to the drastic step of a hunger strike and put our health at risk. If the union had kept their word and implemented what they had agreed last September none of this would have been necessary.
“We also regret that no union official was prepared to meet and discuss with us face to face during our hunger strike. Had they met us the whole thing could have been resolved very quickly and we would not have had to suffer five days of cold, hunger and thirst.
“We have made a stand on behalf of all low paid workers by showing that we were not prepared to be pushed around either by our employer or our union
“I would like to pay tribute to those people in Ireland, Britain and across the world who inundated Unite union with protests on our behalf.”
After coming off the hunger-strike, the workers have had to go to hospital for medical treatment. All are expected to make a recovery.
Issued on behalf of Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer
Hunger striking Unite shop stewards issue challenge to union leadership
8 April 2008
‘Meet us face to face to discuss our demands’
Sacked airport shop steward, Gordon McNeill, who, along with colleagues Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer, is on the second day of a hunger strike outside Transport House today slammed the leadership of the Unite union for embarking on a campaign of “black propaganda and misinformation” about this dispute.
Gordon said: “Instead of meeting us face to face to discuss our reasonable demands the union leadership have resorted to using the police to threaten us with arrest alongside a campaign of deliberate misinformation to try to discredit us.“They have issues press releases headed “Protesters demand £1million each from Unite” to try to make us appear unreasonable and unrealistic in our demands. This is just black propaganda. The union have not offered us a single penny in compensation for the fact that our union official colluded with our employer to have us sacked. If they had stuck to the commitments they gave us last September to make a reasonable offer of compensation, we would not be here.
“We are today issuing a direct challenge to the senior official of Unite in Ireland, Jimmy Kelly – come and meet us face to face to discuss our demands. Our union officials have had no difficulty when it comes to meeting and doing dirty deals with employers. Why can’t they have face to face meetings with their members.”
Hunger-strike medical update 10 April 08
Gordon McNeill and Madan Gupta were released from Belfast City Hospital this morning and have rejoined their protest outside Transport House in Belfast.
Chris Bowyer, Gordon McNeill and Madan Gupta are continuing their hunger-strike against the advice of doctors at Belfast City Hospital who have warned them that they face possible death within 24 hours if they do not recommence eating.
Gordon McNeill, 38, who suffers from asthma and has a serious heart condition has been told that he is entering the first stages of renal failure. When he was taken to hospital his blood sugars were dangerously low. He is in a high state of ketosis and is at serious risk of a heart attack. In 2007, Gordon McNeill was admitted to hospital with an irregular heartbeat.
Madan Gupta, 72, a diabetic who has not taken medication since Monday morning has been told his potassium levels are dangerously high and has also been told he is entering the first stages of renal failure. Doctors have warned because of his diabetis his health is at very serious risk.
The Unite union continues to refuse to talk to the workers.
BREAKING NEWS 9 April 08
Both Gordon McNeill and Madan Gupta have been rushed to Belfast City Hospital in a critical condition.
This is the second time today that Mr McNeill has been hospitalised. Quickly after returning to Transport House, Mr McNeill took ill and was joined by 72 year-old diabetic Madan Gupta back to Belfast City Hospital. Doctors earlier today warned that both McNeill and Gupta are likely to have suffered irreversible kidney damage as a result of their refusal to eat and drink. UNITE still refuse to meet with the workers who have been fighting for over 6 years for justice.
Press Release Wed 9th April – for immediate use
Jimmy Kelly, Leader of UNITE in Ireland, accused of hypocrisy over hunger-strikes
Protestors today accused Irish regional secretary of UNITE Jimmy Kelly of double standards for refusing to talk to the sacked airport workers who are on their fourth day of hunger-strike.
In 1981 Mr. Kelly was the chair of the Hunger Strike Committee in Waterford which attacked Margaret Thatcher for her ‘intransigence’ in refusing to talk to the hunger strikers in the Maze prison.
Speaking after today’s rally outside Transport House in Belfast Gordon McNeill stated “Jimmy Kelly attacked Margaret Thatcher for refusing negotiations with the H-block hunger-strikers in the 80’s, but today he refuses to talk with members of the union who have been forced to go on hunger-strike to get justice. We were sacked after a union official, with the support of the leadership, repudiated our strike action in 2002 at a secret meeting with our former employers. The union seems happy enough to talk to the employers, but won’t talk to it’s members. Once again we appeal to Jimmy Kelly or any other senior members of UNITE to meet with us in order to resolve the outstanding issues. We are feeling the physical effects of our hunger and thirst strike as every hour passes and are determined that our union fulfils it’s commitments to pay the full legal costs and makes an offer of compensation.”
Issued on behalf of Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer
Sacked Belfast Airport Workers Committee
Embargoed until 11.00am Tuesday 21 August 07
11am Tuesday 21st August Jury’s Inn,
Great Victoria St, Belfast
23 Sacked airport workers win landmark Industrial Tribunal case
- Security firm ICTS ordered to pay £750,000 damages.
· Tribunal finds that the 23 workers were unfairly dismissed
· Tribunal also finds that four shop stewards were victimised and sacked because of their socialist political beliefs.
· Shop stewards claim this as a “victory for all trade unionists”.
· Shop stewards to launch a hunger strike at the headquarters of the T&GWU/Unite in London on Thursday demanding an inquiry into why the union repudiated their strike and failed to support their legal case.
Five years after they were sacked by their employer, security firm ICTS, for taking strike action over pay, the 23 sacked airport workers have won their Industrial Tribunal case.
The Tribunal unanimously found that ICTS unfairly dismissed the 23 workers.
Gordon McNeill today said the Tribunal decision “totally vindicated the stand we have taken over the past five years.
“This is a victory not just for us but for all trade unionists. Our case sets two important legal precedents which strengthen the hand of all trade unionists and put a serious dent in the Thatcherite anti union laws.
“The Tribunal decisions in our case now establish that shop stewards can legally resume suspended strikes with no legal requirement to give any notice to employers and that any shop steward who is victimised or sacked can claim political discrimination, rather than just unfair dismissal.
“ICTS have not only been found guilty of discrimination, the senior directors of this company were found to have lied in court. The question now to be asked is how can a company whose directors lie in court be allowed to remain in charge of people’s security at Belfast or any other airport?
“Having won a victory over ICTS we are now turning our attention to our union. The T&GWU was complicit in having us sacked as, behind our backs, they repudiated our strike. They have failed to give us legal backing, telling us we had no legal case.
“They are not even prepared to acknowledge or answer letters we have written asking for discussions to resolve our differences.
“Because of this the three T&GWU shop stewards, Madan Gupta, Chris Bowyer and myself are going to London on Thursday to begin a hunger strike in the T&GWU/Unite offices.
“We will stay on hunger strike until the union leadership meet our demands for a full inquiry into their (mis)handling of our dispute and until they agree to meet the legal bill and other costs we have incurred because they refused to back us in this struggle”
Copies of the Tribunal judgement plus background information on the dispute and information on the intimidation/death threats that were made against the shop stewards in 2003 to get them to drop their case against the union will be given at the press conference.
Issued by Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer on behalf of the 23 sacked airport security workers.