SIPTU Returns to Roots to combat exploitation in Irish PortsSIPTU is getting back to its roots with the formation of a National Ports Committee to represent dock workers. There are still companies in Irish ports refusing to recognise unions, pay the National Minimum Wage or even pay some ship’s crews any wages!
The Committee will work with seafarers and British port workers to fight for better conditions, union recognition, where it is denied, and to end abuse onshore and at sea. The union’s General President Jack O’Connor told the shop stewards they were pioneering the union’s new drive to organise workers in the current economic crisis.
The new committee was established at a two day meeting of shop stewards on Wednesday, June 8th and Thursday, June 9th, in Liberty Hall, Dublin. The men represent port workers in Belfast, Warrenpoint, Dublin, Cork, Cobh, Ringaskiddy, Fenit, Foynes, Limerick, Galway and Killybegs, as well as SIPTU members operating in the offshore services sector.
Hard though it is to imagine, union recognition is still a live issue in some of our ports 100 years after the Dublin Lockout, as the recent dispute with Peel Ports showed. The Committee will be liaising with British unions on the problem through the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Liverpool based ITF inspector Tommy Molloy attended the meeting to begin liaison on this, and other, issues.
Opposing exploitation of seafarers on vessels operating under Flags of Convenience will be another of the Committee’s priorities. Over the past three years over $1 million has been recouped in unpaid wages for foreign seafarers in Irish ports by the ITF inspector for Ireland, Ken Fleming of SIPTU. Six vessels have been arrested and over 100 seafarers repatriated.
When Jim Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in 1909 it was as a breakaway from the National Union of Dock Labourers in Britain and dockers in Dublin formed the number one branch of the union.
Containerisation decimated jobs in Irish ports as it did everywhere. When the ITGWU and the Federated Workers of Ireland (also founded by Jim Larkin) combined to form SIPTU, the regional structures inadvertently fragmented organisation in the ports. The union’s new industrial structures are geared to facilitate greater co-ordination amongst workers in particular sectors.
At the two day conference Ken Fleming said, “Given the union’s history, it is very fitting that it has made rebuilding its organisation in the ports a priority. A key aspect of our work will be creating solidarity between port workers and seafarers.
“In recent years unscrupulous shipping companies have made their crews unload cargoes, work for which they are neither trained, nor paid. In the process these vulnerable seafarers are often forced to labour far beyond the maximum hours permitted by Irish and international law, as well as displacing jobs ashore in the process.
“Some of these seafarers are not paid at all or are due huge arrears of pay. It is only by seafarers and port workers taking joint action in solidarity with each other that this scandal can be ended and decent quality jobs created onshore and at sea.”