Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sacked ICTS airport security workers renew hunger strike action ... in protest at their union Unite (TGWU) rather than their former employer

Image (c) BBC

An update to a disturbing post from last August about two airport shop stewards who were sacked (along with another 20 colleagues) from their ICTS passenger security posts up at Belfast international Airport back in 2002.

The eventual success ...

Despite a lack of support for their case from the TGWU, an industrial tribunal has found that the staff were unfairly dismissed by ICTS and that four shop stewards had been unlawfully discriminated against. A total of £750,000 compensation was awarded.

... was tinged with disappointment as the union had refused to support their members’ case going to tribunal. Two of the shop stewards involved - Madan Gupta (72) and Gordon McNeill (38) - were left with a legal bill of £200k from fighting their dismissal ... strange given that were union representatives. They threatened to go on hunger strike unless the union launched an inquiry and paid up.

The previous action was postponed last September after Unite (Amicus and TGWU are merging into Unite) agreed to meet their demands within seven days. However those assurances failed to materialise.

Update - lunchtime - Unite/TGBU posted their press statement as a comment below, setting out their very different (but less publicised) view of the ongoing dispute. Worth a read.

Whatever the circumstances, it’s sad that the pair’s relationship with their union has been allowed over the years to deteriorate. Particularly, when unions are often the first to speak out about conciliation, mediation and the importance of good communications.

Yesterday’s Newsletter quotes McNeill explaining that they were not entering into their 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.”

And this morning’s Mirror reports that the protesters were dramatically removed from the roof of TGWU’s building in Belfast yesterday:

“ROOFTOP protesters were winched to safety yesterday by the police search and rescue unit. The three sacked Aldergrove airport workers - Gordon McNeill, 38, Madan Gupta, 72, and Chris Bowyer, 49 - set up camp on Transport House in Belfast over claims they were not represented in an industrial dispute six years ago.

Mr McNeill said: ‘We feel so strongly about this we will continue to protest until we either win or we die.’ ”

But the Newsletter plays down yesterday's drama:

“When the police arrived a number of hours into the protest, the men decided to come down off the roof voluntarily.”

Adding ...

“A statement from the union said allegations over reneging on paying the costs was ‘wrong’.

A spokesman said the union had complied in full: ‘There is very little chance that Mr McNeill or Mr Gupta will be required to pay a single penny towards the costs bill.’ ”

Update - Saturday morning - Hunger strike was thankfully suspended on Friday evening after union give assurances and negotiations open up on compensation. Unclear if Unite/TGBU have issued a statement.

Update - Saturday 26 April - Stumbled across an article that outlines some of the history of the long-running dispute from the side of the shop stewards.


Anonymous said...

Protesters outside Unite HQ in Belfast are demanding the union pay them £1m each it was claimed today.
The union said claims by the men that legal fees had not been paid was incorrect and the men were now seeking £3m from Unite in order to settle the dispute.
The union believes it has acted honourably in responding to the individual’s requests that legal costs be covered … and it has.
Unite the union is aware that a press statement has been issued on behalf of Gordon McNeill and Madan Gupta, in relation to a dispute between the two men and the union.
The union had no intention of making public statements about this dispute, but it is compelled to do so because of the incorrect information provided about the union and named officers of the union. It is correct that a case has been pursued in the Tribunal in Belfast and the Tribunal found in favour of the individuals in cases against their former employer ICTS. The individual claimants were represented by Breslin McCormick solicitors of Belfast, and since the Tribunal judgment was issued the union has paid to the solicitors £106000 on account of legal costs, and the union is involved in constructive and amicable negotiations with the solicitors to reach agreement over outstanding areas of claim. The allegation the union has reneged on a promise to pay the costs is wrong and defames those involved on the union’s behalf. There is very little chance that Mr. McNeill or Mr. Gupta will be required to pay a single penny towards the costs bill.
Whilst the individuals have received some compensation from ICTS, part of the Tribunal’s decision is subject to an appeal. The costs of the appeal are being paid by the union. The allegation that the union has reneged on a promise to pay these costs is wrong and defames those involved on the union’s behalf. The agreement to pay the appeal costs was notified to Breslin McCormick solicitors several weeks ago and will be known to the individuals.

In fact, amicable discussions regarding the costs issues took place between legal representatives as recently as the morning of Friday 4th April.

Mr. McNeill and Mr. Gupta (and Mr. Bowyer) have instructed other solicitors (Mr. Canavan of Jones and Company) to pursue a claim for other compensation against the union. The Unite Joint General Secretary Tony Woodley did agree to investigate this claim and the union’s solicitors have engaged in to date confidential discussions with Mr. Canavan, including by visiting Mr. Canavan`s office in Belfast earlier this year. The union had hoped to reach agreement in relation to this dispute, but the individuals have demanded payments of £1 million each to settle the dispute. Mr. Woodley and Unite are unable to make such payments which are without any legal justification, and fail to take into account the sums already payable by ICTS. Mr. Woodley and the Regional Secretary for Ireland Jimmy Kelly have made payments of hardship benefits to the individuals and by agreeing to pay the legal costs, the union has complied in full with the assurances given in September 2007.

The union is disappointed that the press release was issued and contains so many inaccuracies. The union would prefer to continue to negotiate through solicitors as was agreed by Mr. McNeill and Mr. Gupta, and the union will not pay out several million pounds, even when faced with threats to begin a hunger strike. All of the individuals have received compensation and now have no legal bills to face. There is no need to begin a hunger strike and in the light of the above information the threat to do so could be viewed as representing the most unreasonable pressure on the union and individual union officers. Despite these threats and the false allegations made Unite will continue to address the issues concerning legal costs and will continue to fund the appeal. The union has no desire to see Mr. McNeill and Mr. Gupta on hunger strike and they are encouraged to instruct Mr. Canavan to make urgent contact with the union’s solicitor.


Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

While entered as an anonymous comment, you can take it as read that this is the right of reply from the TGWU/Unite union ... thanks for stopping by to give another (less publicised) view on the story in the local press.

> Apr 8 2008 12:54:58 pm
> 194.74.8.# (Transport & General Workers Union)
> Referring URL

Cosmo said...

Does anyone else find the idea of hunger strikes as sick?!

While thousands today will die because they want to eat but can't, why would anyone with the means to eat flaunt that in the faces of the starving? (Unless it is an act of sympathetic suffering to highlight the plight of the poor).

Please, do make protest and seek the justice which is due. But please also think about the methods and the message it sends.