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ireland / britain | economy | news report Thursday February 24, 2011 20:43 by Kevin Doyle - Workers Solidarity Movement
The attack on workers at the Davenport Hotel in Dublin had highlighted the greed and bullying in the hotel business. A similar case to that at the Davenport has come to light here in Cork. But so far fear has ruled the day. The Clarion describes itself as one of “Cork’s premier 4 Star City Centre Hotels”. Although it’s well able to charge for its rooms it cannot find its way to granting its workers a 29 cents per hour pay rise.
Clarion hotel in Cork and Davenport in Dublin: Fighting for solidarity the key
The attack on workers at the Davenport Hotel in Dublin had highlighted the greed and bullying in the hotel business. A similar case to that at the Davenport has come to light here in Cork. But so far fear has ruled the day.
The Clarion describes itself as one of “Cork’s premier 4 Star City Centre Hotels”. Although it’s well able to charge for its rooms it cannot find its way to granting its workers a 29 cents per hour pay rise.
CUTThe current situation began in 2009 when the workers at the Clarion had their wages cut by a €1 an hour – taking their rate of pay to €8.80 an hour (only 15 cents above the national minimum wage.) Last year a number of workers at the hotel decided to join the Independent Workers Union. They subsequently lodged a claim for a pay rate of €9.09 an hour. €9.09 per hour is rate of pay established by the Joint Labour Committee Agreement for Hotel Rates (Outside Dublin). This rate would at least give them parity with other workers in the sector. Clarion Management rejected the claim by the workers.
The case was taken by the IWU to Labour Court and opened in January. Noel Murphy of the IWU attended on behalf of the unions’ members. Clarion Management also attended with a number of IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) advisors. The IBEC legal team immediately raised the matter that none of the Clarion’s employees were actually present at the Labour Court. Citing the Supreme Court ruling in Ryan Air v IMPACT (2007) which stipulated that “a company was entitled to know and see evidence given by those employees that were claiming an industrial dispute existed”, they asked to see which of their workers were making a claim against them. Cynically Clarion claimed that they had their own ‘internal’ HR mechanism for ‘sorting out disputes’ and that there would be no ill effects on any employee who approached them using this method. The workers at Clarion do not agree.
BREADWINNERSNot surprisingly the Labour Court saw on the boss’s side of things and applied the ruling in the Ryan Air v IMPACT case. This led to the case being adjourned immediately until and when the workers from the Clarion showed their faces. Noel Murphy of IWU was subsequently unable to persuade the workers at the Clarion to come forward – many are the sole breadwinners in their families and as he pointed out, ‘they simply cannot afford to lose their jobs’.
So , for the moment, intimidation, bullying and greed have won the day in Cork. And of course the Labour Court has also shown its true metal. Surprised? Apparently it’s part of an ‘impartial’ mediation procedure as well as being central to Ireland’s legendary ‘partnership’ process! We don’t think so. As conceived, it is a tool of the employers and the privileged in this country, paying fat and lucrative wages to judges who know what side their bread is buttered on. We can expect no sympathy there.
The situation at the Clarion though does show why it’s crucial that the Davenport workers win. The dispute at the Davenport needs mass solidarity and a mass picket – that is how it could be effective and decisive. But already SIPTU have been challenged in the courts under the 1990 Industrial Relations Act by the Davenport’s owners. Following on from this SIPTU have been ordered to limit the picketing outside the Davenport. Needless to say SIPTU’s officialdom will be advised by its legal team to comply with this order and duly will. The result? The strike at the Davenport, accordingly, is in grave danger of not being effective enough against a tough and resourceful employer.
DEFYThe Davenport dispute highlights the real limitation for workers of taking a course of action that respects the law and the industrial relations machinery. It amounts to this: you can strike BUT you won’t be effective. We all know what that means ultimately.
The need to break the law and defy the Industrial Relations Act is obvious. But no one group of workers can do it on their own. Nor can the workers at the Davenport be expected to lead the way when they do not know what level of support exists behind them and in solidarity with them. Right now, it is necessary to address this issue. Links between those more politicised workers who see the need to resist and fight back must be established. In many areas, in many workplaces across the country, dissent and resistance is alive. But this resistance is often isolated and is often disconnected from the broader assault on our wages and conditions. We urgently need to link up and to start talking about building a grassroots workers movement. A key aim of any such momentum would be to deliver solidarity when it’s needed. For times like now with the Davenport dispute but also for the likes of workers like those at the Clarion in Cork who must for the moment contend with a bullying and greedy employer – who may yet come back for more.
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