Irish Ferries accused of 'dishonouring' agreement

Siptu is claiming Irish Ferries has broken an agreement on the payment of migrant workers. Irish Ferries deny this and claim the workers are employed by another company. By Frank Connolly

Irish Ferries have been accused of dishonouring the agreement made with trade unions representing workers on their vessels at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) last year. The deal, brokered after mass protests and a strike by Irish Ferries employees, permitted the company to re-flag its vessels to Cyprus, introduce Eastern European agency seafarers and displace 500 Irish workers.

Under the agreement made in December 2005, Irish Ferries was obliged to pay the foreign workers employed by the Cyprus-based crew agency, Dobsons, the minimum wage of €7.65 per hour for a ten hour day. Employees would work for two months and get one month off for which they would be paid.

The Irish Ferries dispute threatened to derail prospects for a new national partnership arrangement which were only resumed after the deal was reached.

However, SIPTU branch secretary Paul Smith has now accused the company of dishonouring the deal following persistent complaints that workers employed by the crewing agency are not being paid for their time off.

“I don't believe the company is honouring the deal in the way it was intended” Paul Smith told Village. “The deal we brokered was for paid leave. The problem is that the only way of enforcing the contract is if these people become members of a trade union.

“During the negotiations we tried to force the company to ensure that each individual would have a legal right to the contract but the company insisted that this could not happen,” he said.

Siptu members at Dublin port have been told by Latvian and other Eastern European workers that they have not been receiving payment for the time-off periods and claim that there is evidence that there is a massive turnover of the lowest paid cabin crew grades.

However, according to Paul Smith, the company has removed Siptu members from Irish Ferries ships – the Ulysses, the Inismore and the Normandy – in order to keep the foreign workers away from Siptu members.

“It is impossible to get on board the ships to establish the conditions under which these people are working. Until some of them come to us we cannot go to the LRC to ensure that the agreement we made is fully implemented and honoured. We need the Latvians and other foreign workers to stand up and tell us,” the Siptu official said.

A company spokesman said that there was a legal agreement between the parties to the deal agreed following the Irish Ferries controversy in December.

“That Agreement has been signed off by all the parties. Irish Ferries is operating in full compliance with that Agreement,” the company spokesman told Village.

He pointed out, however, that the crew recruitment agency, Dobsons, and Irish Ferries were separate companies.

Last week the Stena line which competes with Irish Ferries on the Irish sea routes announced plans to introduce a European, mainly Polish, crew on a lower pay rate on its Dublin to Holyhead route – a move which also sparked trade union protests.

Meanwhile the Techinical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) has accused a company working on the ESB's €3billion network renewal project of paying its foreign workers just €3.21 per hour. The electricians union has said that Energo has also let go 15 of its Serbian workers despite the fact that the Labour Inspectorate has not completed an investigation ordered by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheal Martin into their working conditions.

“Contracts for a further 15 employees were terminated last week. This reduces the number of Energo employees in Ireland to 31. Last Autumn when the TEEU first became aware of the conditions under which these men were employed and secured them the full Registered Employment Agreement (REA) rates there were 95,” the union claimed.

“The remaining Energo employees are coming under pressure to sign forms waiving their rights to arrears under the REA which can amount to €40,000 in some cases.”

“A group of former Energo employees has approached the TEEU and produced contracts with even less favourable contracts than their colleagues. The basic pay of these men was ... €3.21 an hour.”

A legal opinion obtained by the TEEU has stated that Energo appears “to have broken a host of Irish employment statutes.”

Energo was hired by Laing O'Rourke, the main contractor on the ESB project, which has confirmed that it also investigating the treatment of the Serbian workers.