Irish workers go on hunger strike over unfair dismissals

Two workers at the Green Isle Foods factory in Ireland have gone on hunger strike in a dispute over unfair dismissals. They have been striking for six months.

Two striking workers at the Green Isle Foods factory in Ireland have gone on hunger strike in a dispute over unfair dismissals.

The men, who are members of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, have been on strike for six months over the unfair dismissal of three fellow workers.

The president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Jack O’Connor, and general secretary David Begg, both spoke at a rally in support of the Green Isle Foods workers and hunger strikers in Naas on Saturday. The rally was organised by the Kildare Council of Trade Unions.

Shop steward Jim Wyse is entering the third week on hunger strike and John Guinan, a former Offaly All-Ireland footballer, is in his second week. A third TEEU member will join the hunger strike tomorrow if the dispute is not resolved in the meantime.

The hunger strikers took this momentous step after being on the picket line for six months, through one of the worst winters in living memory, and after the company rebuffed the efforts of the Labour Relations Commission, the National Implementation Body and the Labour Court to resolve the dispute.

The only independent body to examine the merits of the dispute is the Labour Court. It found the dismissals to be unfair and recommended that the men be reinstated and fully reimbursed for lost wages, or be paid a total of €160,000 in compensation for the loss of their jobs.

A number of opposition political leaders have expressed their support for the strikers.

The background to the dispute is the Irish government’s response to the economic crisis. Having cut welfare payments, as well as public sector pay, the government has actively promoted pay cuts in the private sector, and is looking to reduce the minimum wage.

Green Isle Foods is a division of the British conglomerate Northern Foods, which has a turnover of more than €1 billion and in its latest annual report profits were up 8.9% to £53 million.

Amongst its best known brands are Goodfellas and San Marco pizzas, and Green Isle vegetables. It also produces a number of ‘own brand’ products for supermarket chains in Britain. Its total workforce in Britain and Ireland is approximately 20,000.

Much of the British workforce is organised in a number of trade unions, including Unite and the GMB. The TEEU’s site is here, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has a major focus on the dispute here.

British trade unionists, especially those in unions represented at Northern Foods, will want to express their solidarity with the strikers and hunger strikers, while politicians here should take Northern Foods to task for the refusal of its Irish subsidiary to abide by the law, and reinstate the sacked workers.

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