Following the magnificent walkouts and protests in Ireland last week, Irish Ferries workers, who have been occupying two ships in Welsh ports for 21 days, have forced a stunning climbdown from the management of the shipping company.
Their determination, together with the mobilising of the Irish labour movement, forced Irish Ferries' management to resolve the dispute. Last Friday up 170,000 workers took part in walkouts and rallies across Ireland in support of the workers.
The dispute centred on plans to replace 540 workers from the Irish Republic with migrant workers on less than half the Irish minimum wage. The workers have won a pay package for all migrant workers which will bring wages above the Irish minimum wage of £5.20.
The company has also backed down over rest time. It had intended to make the new workers spend their rest time on the ferries – a plan it has now withdrawn. Higher crewing ratios have also been guaranteed, allowing for further rest periods.
During the dispute Irish Ferries threatened to cut existing redundancy payments by 25 percent. Instead the original offer of eight weeks per year served has been kept. All workers who wish to stay at the company will have their existing terms and conditions guaranteed.
While the union lost its fight to prevent the reflagging of the company’s vessels abroad, a legally binding contract guarantees the conditions of all workers for Irish ferries.
The Irish unions have issued leaflets in Latvian and Lithuanian to explain the victory to the new staff and get them involved in the union.
The dispute does not just show that organised workers can take on major companies and win.
It also provides a method to tackle attacks across Europe from the proposed Bolkestein directive, which will turn Irish Ferries defeated plans into the preferred method of stripping back workers’ rights.
If British unions mobilised in the same way as the Irish ones have in the last week, we could turn back New Labour’s attacks on our pension rights.