Two sacked airport workers in Northern Ireland are on hunger and thirst strike for the second time in a month.
Gordon McNeill and Chris Bowyer began their protest at the Unite (formerly T&G) union building in Belfast at the end of last week.
Gordon McNeill had been without food and water for six days as Socialist Worker went to press. He was taken to hospital on Monday of this week, only to return to the protest.
The protest centres on Unite’s handling of their dismissal in 2002 by security firm ICTS, their former employer at Belfast International Airport. Some 24 workers were sacked after striking against poverty wages.
The strike followed months of negotiations and a secret ballot organised by the T&G. Despite this ballot showing near-unanimous support for strike action, it was repudiated by the T&G.
The workers won a court ruling that their strike had complied with both union rules and the law. They also went on to win at an employment tribunal, which found that the workers had been unfairly dismissed.
Importantly, the tribunal also ruled that four shop stewards had been unlawfully discriminated against. The company has appealed against this decision, adding to the legal costs of the sacked workers.
Last September the workers met Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, who made a commitment to support them.
The workers held a protest last month and after further commitments from the union called off their hunger strike.
The workers say the promises made by the union have not been fulfilled. And they have suffered financial hardship after campaigning for their rights.
The T&G clearly should have backed these workers from the beginning. The dispute should now be resolved by the Unite union paying them hardship payments and compensation and, as a matter of urgency, guaranteeing that the workers’ legal costs will be paid.
The dispute should be resolved quickly as a union matter without recourse to either the courts or the police.