Friday, 27 May 2011

Boots workers deserve to be treated with Dignity and Respect

Martin O’Rourke
SIPTU Organiser

Despite achieving record profits of over £1billion last year, Boots have threatened to cut premium pay and cease payment for breaks for their workers from June 1st 2011.

Ireland’s largest trade union SIPTU who represent Boots workers are totally opposed to this decision which is punishing the very people who have helped Boots achieve their huge profit.

Rather than being rewarded for their hard work, dedication and professionalism in the workplace, and sharing in the success, Boots is actually withdrawing basic employment terms and conditions.

We will campaign against this, having already organised days of action outside the Cookstown and Coleraine Boots stores, and we will be organising more in the near future.

Over 100 Boots workers have already registered grievances in relation to the management’s unacceptable proposal. We do not believe that the management are dealing with grievances in the appropriate manner and we will be seeking the assistance of the industrial relations machinery of the state to resolve this issue to our member’s satisfaction.

We ask for you to join with us in supporting the Boots workers in protecting their basic employment rights and affording them the dignity and respect that they deserve in the workplace.

Please show your support for Boots workers by registering your complaint with the local Boots manager.

Coleraine Boots workers concerned at Proposed Cut to Premium Pay

SIPTU organised a day of action on Monday 23rd of May at the Boots store in Coleraine in relation to the employer’s stated intent to cut premium pay and cease payment for breaks from June 1st.
SIPTU the trade union said that workers decided to call days of action outside various Boots stores across the local economy to advise the public of the chemist’s proposals and to seek public support for the campaign against the proposals.
Boots workers attended and engaged with the public on the day of action.
(SIPTU activists at the Coleraine Boots store)

SIPTU Lead Organiser Martin O’Rourke said,
“The workers concerned will be utilising the industrial relations machinery of the state to seek the re-instatement of the agreed terms and conditions of employment. 
Other “Days of Action” have been arranged for various Boots stores across the north.”

Plaque unveiled to honour the fallen Belfast Brigadista

Members of the local community, community activists, veteran’s relatives and SIPTU activists from across the community attended the unveiling of a memorial plague to William Tumlinson from East Belfast on the 16th of April. The event was organised by Teach na Failte, Lower Castlereagh Community Group and Charter NI.

On what is the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War the unveiling of the plaque to William Tumlinson, a volunteer in the International Brigades holds a special place in the history of the working class of Belfast. Local historian John Quinn gave a speech on Tumlinson’s journey from an East Belfast lad living in Thorndyke Street to his eventual participation as a volunteer in the International Brigades and death fighting the fascists during the Ebro offensive of 1938.
William Tumlinson was an East Belfast protestant who imbued and emboldened by his belief in socialist politics went to fight in Spain in what is often termed the “Last great cause” in defence of the Spanish democracy against the rising tide of fascism. His experiences in Belfast were set against the backdrop of Outdoor Relief Riots, unemployment and depression. Experiences which would shape and confirm for him and many others that went to fight in Spain that it is class and not creed that matters.
William Tumlinson was a true working class hero and deserves to be remembered in the collective memory of the working people of Belfast, he is part of a hidden and often unsung history that transcends the sectarian divide and can be shared by all. The diverse attendance at the memorial was testimony to this.

Assembly Members sign SIPTU Community Sector Pledge

SIPTU have written to all the main political parties seeking their support in our campaign to protect the Community Sector from savage cuts.

SIPTU has also written to the MLAs seeking their commitment to protect our Community Sector, all MLA were afforded the opportunity to sign a pledge in this regard.  To date the following MLA’s have done so.

Martina Anderson, Carál Ni Chuilín, Fra McCann, and Raymond McCartney. Dawn Purvis and Fred Cobain signed the pledge prior to the May elections.

A number of Councillors from across the parties have also signed the pledge.

(New DCAL Minister Carál Ni Chuilín MLA signs the SIPTU pledge)

The wording of the pledge reads as follows;

“I am aware of the vital role our Voluntary and Community sector plays in lifting communities and individuals out of poverty. I believe the benefits to our society from this sector are not limited to economic but also extend to vital social benefits.

Noting the vital economic and social value of this sector to the local economy, I believe that cuts in funding to the Community and Voluntary sector make neither economic nor social sense.

If elected as an MLA I will endeavour to protect our Community Sector, the employees, volunteers and the service users from funding curtailment.”

May Day March success in sunny Belfast and Derry

Hundreds of SIPTU members joined thousands of marchers to celebrate May Day in Belfast and Derry.  In his address, SIPTU General President Jack O’Connor said the trade union movement had warned that the austerity programme would not work and would only deepen the economic crisis. He predicted the EU/ECR/IMF package and the effort to save the banks would threaten the long term survival of the economy.

(SIPTU lead the Belfast May Day March 2011)

Pat McCauley a SIPTU community worker and activist from Belfast commenting at the march said,

”It was great to see this cross community event attended by working people from across Belfast. Throughout the worst aspects of the conflict the trade union movement was one of the main forces that continued to work towards improving working people’s lives.  We were also aware that when we required public services the trade union movement would best ensure they were available.  That is why I am proud to march with my SIPTU colleagues today.”

Barry McColgan a SIPTU Community Activist who travelled from Omagh to attend the May Day celebrations in Belfast added,

“I attended today to join with others who believe the trade union movement is vital to the shaping of a fairer society with justice for all”.

Also in Belfast there were a range of activities to mark May Day including an evening of culture through music, verse and words.  The writer Francis Devine from The Irish Labour History Society recalled the lives and contributions of Jim Larkin, James Connolly, Winnie Carney and other labour activists and explored their legacy in relation to current economic and societal realities.  A specially cast limited edition badge to commemorate 100 years of Connolly’s arrival in Belfast was also launched.

The SIPTU banner and flags also flew proudly during the Derry Trade Union Council Mayday march through the town. 

Martin O’Rourke Lead organiser with SIPTU stated,

“We were proud and honoured today to walk in the footsteps of thousands of activists who over the last hundred years have worked tirelessly to improve terms and conditions for working people”.

Video of Belfast James Connolly Commemoration 2011

SIPTU’s Historic Links with Belfast

SIPTU’s involvement with Belfast commenced on the 20th January 1907 when James Larkin arrived in Belfast as a delegate for the first annual British Labour Party Conference.  His other objective was the  organisation of Belfast's 3,100 dockers, 2000 of whom were casual ‘spellsmen’ hired at low rates on a daily basis. Working terms and conditions were poor even for regularly employed Dockers. Wages were terrible, and their working week could be as long as 75 hours.

At this time Larkin was an organiser for the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL).

(SIPTU activists at Belfast May Day 2011)

Within one month after his arrival in Belfast, Larkin had achieved membership of 400. By April, he had organised 2000 workers.

The combination of poor working conditions and growing trade union membership set the stage for the Belfast Strike in 1907.  On July 24th this dispute also involved 300 Belfast policemen who refused to engage in activities detrimental to the strike.  The Government responded by bringing 7,000 troops from Dublin and calling martial law in everything but name.
Larkin was unhappy at the way his NUDL bosses resolved the dispute and when he was dispatched to Dublin he decided to form his own union the Irish Transport and General Workers Union  (ITGWU) now SIPTU.  Belfast was represented at that founding meeting on the 28th December 1908 in Dublin and has an unbroken tradition ever since.  Belfast Dockers in the main repudiated the NUDL to join Larkin’s new Union the ITGWU.
Over the years the ITGWU/SIPTU has had its offices in various centres in the city.  Initially 11 Victoria Street,  and in 1922 the office was located at 122 Corporation Street, William McMullin worked here and eventually became General President of the ITGWU. 

The union opened new offices on the Antrim Road for the first time owning its own premises in Belfast. Today the union office is at number 3 Antrim Road,  5 fulltime staff work from this busy hub assisted by hundreds of activists to ensure the continuation of our proud tradition, and to also ensure Belfast continues to play its full role in the union.
Belfast is then a founding Branch of SIPTU.  It continues to fly the flag for the Union- not just as an exercise in banner waving but as a continuance of an anti-sectarian, socialist voice for inclusion and equality within and across the local economy. 

The three biggest employments are NIR, Boots the Chemist and the Community Sector. 

Thousands of activists have worked on behalf of their colleagues since then to improve terms and conditions of employment.  It is these thousands of activists from SIPTU and other unions who we can thank today for the vast improvements in working conditions over the last 104 years since Larkin came to town. 

However these gains are now under increasing threat from unscrupulous employers who will hide behind the recession to attempt to claw back these hard won gains and today as 104 years ago our activists will play a key role in resisting this pressure and building upon the gains of the past.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

SIPTU stand up for Cookstown Boots workers

Boots workers are fighting back against attempts by Alliance Boots, the hugely profitable retail pharmacy group to slash their terms and conditions of employment. 
As part of this process SIPTU the trade union engaged with the public in relation to proposed cuts in the Premium Pay and non payment for breaks outside the three Boots Stores in Cookstown on Thursday.  Workers in Boots have already had their Pension Benefits cut and their sick pay scheme terms have been reduced. 

Martin O’Rourke, SIPTU lead organiser commenting on the engagements stated,
“The members of the public we spoke to in Cookstown were shocked to learn that this Company which recently made a payment of 1,000,000 pounds to a senior manager, and who made in excess of 1 Billion pounds profit last year were intent upon reducing the earning of workers who currently earn only slightly in excess of the minimum wage.
We urge Boots Management to reconsider this ill advised, unfair and unacceptable proposal and to engage with the worker representatives in meaningful negotiations to address the issues of concern with staff that we first raised in October last year.  We are preparing for additional engagements with the public outside the stores if management fail in this regard.
The Trade Union insists that Boots workers who are members of SIPTU will not be taken advantage of.  “We insist on fair play by this profitable Company who we believe is trying to milk the recession by cutting wages and conditions of loyal and hardworking staff, the very people who have made Boots the High Street success story it is,” added Martin O’Rourke.
Our members have informed us they are not prepared to accept this unacceptable alteration and we are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with them on this and the other issues of concern to them.

SIPTU host public meeting for West Belfast Community Workers

On Tuesday 19th April, SIPTU held the first of three public engagements with Community Sector Workers across Belfast to advise of their campaign to protect the Community Sector.  In recent weeks they have learned of the reduction of funding to vital Community Sector Organisations, and even the removal of funding from wonderful organisations such as Art Ability based in West Belfast interface Agnes Street.

Art Abilty is a cross community group catering for both children and adults, the majority of whom have special needs. While the funding has been removed the dedicated workers have remained at their posts determined to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are not allowed to suffer at the hands of an-uncaring bureaucratic decision.  It is difficult to accept that the powers that be, apparently believe that these people do not need this service.  

SIPTU have written to the Minister to seek an urgent meeting to have this decision reversed with immediate effect, however if the Minister’s office fails to engage in a positive and constructive manner, SIPTU have stated they will lead a delegation of the workers, the service users and their families to present the Minister with the wonderful banner the children have made to illustrate the impact of the cuts on their lives.   SIPTU Lead Organiser Martin O’Rourke stated at the meeting;  “I hope this will not be necessary and we look forward to a positive and constructive engagement with the Minister.”

All Belfast MLAs and candidates from West Belfast were invited to attend the meeting and Fra McCann of Sinn Fein attended to engage with the Community Sector and the services users to sign the pledge and support the community sector if re-elected  as MLAs.   There are a further two meetings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday night where other MLAs have advised they will also attend.

Pat McCauley who is a SIPTU Community Activist commenting on the meeting stated,

“We took this opportunity to engage with community workers in West Belfast following similar successful engagements with Community Sector Workers right across the local economy to learn about at first hand,  the shocking impact on service users  of the cuts imposed, which make neither economic nor social sense.  We are placing the powers that be on notice that they may have seen the Community and Voluntary sector as the point of least resistance for cuts in the past which have wiped out around 3,000 jobs and vital services, but they need to be mindful of the fight back. There are around 27,000 Community Sector Workers and 100,000 volunteers who with the support of the Community and the Trade Union SIPTU, will be ensuring the voices of the most vulnerable will be heard at the decision making table.”