INSIDE: Saving Belfast Shipbuilding A Dublin View of Europe Winter 2018/2019 The magazine for Unite members in Ireland
Seas of SEAS OF Solidarity SOLIDARITY
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UNITE: YOUR UNION FOR LIFE John W* is a retired member who spent most of his working life employed by a major multinational at a plant in Northern Ireland, during which time he was exposed to asbestos caused by the structure of the building in which he worked. What started as a case involving pleural plaques became much more serious when John was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2017. John was long retired at the time of his diagnosis – but fortunately he had kept up his Unite membership and we pursued a claim on his behalf, compiling medical evidence and then initiating court proceedings against the company. Medical experts for both sides agreed with the physical diagnosis, and John’s team also decided to provide psychiatric evidence of the significant emotional distress caused by the diagnosis and prognosis. As John is not only the main contributor to his household’s income, but also primarily responsible for upkeep and maintenance of the family home, we claimed for both financial loss and for loss of services. Once we had calculated John’s losses our priority was to secure a speedy resolution of the case, and we were able to negotiate a settlement of £150,000. Remember: Unite is your union for life – not just for your working life. Retired members pay just €2.79 / £2.38 per month. *Name changed to protect member’s privacy
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Winter 2018/2019 The magazine for Unite members in Ireland
uniteWORKS Contents 4 Comments
14 Period Dignity Campaign Update
General Secretary Len McCluskey and Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock write
15 Time for action on mothers’ mental health services Unite CPHVA members at the coalface
5 Health, safety and a dose of solidarity Benefit night for Unite member
16 Uniting to protect school transport
6 Just Transition What lies ahead for Bord na Móna
17 Remembering John Ryder Obituary
7 Seas of solidarity Unite member Michael Cecil helps save
School transport must remain free
refugees from the Aegean waters
18 Politics matters Check out our RoI blog
8 Brexit and the ‘Baileys Question’ Fears over a hard Brexit
19 Good news for Aughinish Plant US lifts sanctions
9 Joining the NI campaign for pension justice 77,000 women denied state pension
20 A Dublin view of Europe The need for a fairer Europe
10 Apprentices Unite! Report on a meeting attended by
21 Kilroot reprieve Unite wins reprieve for power workers
11 Suicide awareness Unite raises awareness in the community
22 Unite Archaeologists break ground with 9% Rubicon deal Campaign update
nearly 100 apprentices
23 Mental health matters Unite co-hosts seminar
12 Shipbuilding in Belfast Unite welcomes launch of the Ship
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Living Wage The concept of a Living Wage – a wage that would afford every worker a decent standard of living – goes back to the nineteenth century, and was first politically championed by Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb in 1898.
Facing down Fascism
120 years later, the independently-calculated Living Wage has developed into a powerful tool for working people and the trade union movement.
Fascism is a chameleon. It changes form, shapeshifting to suit different eras and places. But one thing is a constant: fascism – and its close relatives, ultranationalism and authoritarianism – is the enemy of working people. And it is only by working people organising in communities that it can be defeated.
It was formalised in the UK in 2011, when the ‘Minimum Income Standard’ was first calculated by researchers at Loughborough University, and in the Republic of Ireland in 2014, when the ‘Living Wage Technical Group’ was formed to calculate a Living Wage based on ‘Minimum Essential Budget’ research carried out by the Vincentians.
In 1936, Dublin-born trade unionist, communist and lifelong anti-Fascist Max Levitas helped face down Fascism in the ‘Battle of Cable Street’. Socialists, Communists, anarchists, trade unionists and others filled the streets in solidarity with their Jewish neighbours under attack by Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts.
The Living Wage provides a benchmark of decency, and has been the focus of successful Unite campaigns in sectors as diverse as local authority workers in Northern Ireland and archaeologists in the Republic.
Max Levitas died in early November, having spent a lifetime fighting Fascism, racism and social exclusion – whether as a councillor in Tower Hamlets or as a tenants’ rights activist well into his 90s.
Poverty pay is endemic North and South. In Northern Ireland, 13 per cent of households with at least one adult in paid employment are in poverty, while approximately the same percentage of people in work are at risk of poverty in the Republic.
Eighty-two years after Dubliner Max Levitas helped face down Mosley’s thugs in London’s East End, the far right is again on the rise – and trade unionists are again on the front line of the fight for our democratic values – whether in Ireland or Britain, continental Europe or the United States.
The Living Wage can help lift workers out of poverty – but unions know that the most reliable route to decent jobs paying decent wages remains organising and collective bargaining. And the Living Wage is a substitute for neither: it is simply one of the many tools we can use to defend and advance workers’ rights. In particular, the Living Wage has proven to be an invaluable communications tool, understood both by the media and the general public as the threshold of decency below which no workers should be allowed to fall. Given that it is independently calculated as the minimum needed for a decent standard of living, the Living Wage also highlights the inadequacy of the statutory minimum wage in both the UK and Ireland: in both jurisdictions, the minimum wage falls significantly short of a Living Wage.
The politics of exclusion – of othering – needs easily identifiable enemies. In 1930s Germany it was Jews; in today’s Germany it is Muslims. In the Republic, as demonstrated by Peter Casey’s performance in last year’s Presidential election, it is Travellers. In Northern Ireland, Britain First has been trying to drum up anti-Roma sentiment. The list goes on – and wherever racists and fascists organise, the trade union movement must be there, working with communities to push them back.
Unite will continue working with other unions and civil society groups, including Living Wage groups and campaigns, to tackle the scourge of low pay through the island of Ireland.
Internally, we must continue educating members about racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. But we also need to stand side-by-side with communities on the streets, as the trade union movement did in 1936. Our movement has a unique ability to bring working people together – not just in the workplace, but in the community. Announcing Max Levitas’ death, his family said “No Pasaran!” - and with Max they never did.
In solidarity Jackie Pollock, regional secretary uniteWORKS Ireland No:4 26-34 Antrim Road, Belfast BT15 2AA uniteWORKS Ireland No:4 26-34 Antrim Road, Belfast BT15 2AA Tel: 028 90 232381 Fax: 028 90 329904 Tel: 028 90 232381 Fax: 028 90 329904 Magazine enquiries and letters to the editor, by post, phone, Magazine enquiries and letters to the editor, by post, phone, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email email@example.com Distribution enquiries contact your regional office. Distribution enquiries contact your regional office Available digitally.
As trade unionists, we need to continue saying ‘No Pasaran!’ in Belfast, Dublin and London.
Len McCluskey, general secretary
uniteWORKS Winter 2018/19
Health, safety and a dose of solidarity According to the Health and Safety Authority, 8,709 non-fatal workplace injuries were reported in 2017, with manual handling accounting for approximately a third of reported injuries. And those figures just relate to reported injuries. When it comes to work-related deaths, farming continues to be the most dangerous sector in which to work, followed by the construction and transportation/storage sectors. Thanks to improved health and safety awareness, numbers of work-related injuries and deaths have been falling in recent years, but there’s still clearly work to be done. Ken Smith is a Unite member, crane operator and grandfather who has worked in the construction sector for over 25 years. As a long-standing union activist, Ken is a shop steward and a member of the Construction Branch Committee.
Ken’s life changed last August while working on a building site in Dublin’s city centre. Through no fault of his own, his lower leg was crushed by a falling load weighting around five tonnes. Doctors were unable to safe Ken’s leg, which had to be amputated below the knee. Although he is currently undergoing rehab, Ken may never operate a crane again. The accident was logged with the HSA, and Unite followed up to ensure it was properly investigated. While Ken is getting huge support from Unite, what he needs most right now is financial support – and solidarity. A few weeks ago Unite organised a Benefit Night for Ken. The event was attended by a large crowd of Unite members, fellow construction workers and members of the wider trade union movement, who came along to show their solidarity with Ken and enjoy some top-notch union-grown
Ken Smith thanking Unite members and friends for their solidarity
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Senior Regional Organiser Davy Kettyle entertainment: musicians included Senior Regional Organiser Davy Kettyles, Organiser-in-Training Keith Murdiff, and former ICTU official Fergus Whelan. If you would like to show your own solidarity with Ken, you can make a donation at www.gofundme.com/
Transition Bord na Mona is an iconic Irish enterprise dating back to 1933, when it was established as the Turf Development Board. World War II, and the associated steep drop in coal imports, saw heavy reliance on peat, focusing Government attention on the potential for development of Ireland’s bogs – not least to ensure security of supply. In 1946, following passage of the Turf Development Act, it changed its name to Bord na Mona. Over the intervening years, Bord na Mona generated jobs and sustained communities, especially in the Midlands. Today, climate change and the associated need for de-carbonisation has forced the company to switch its focus from peat extraction. It will be ceasing extraction from 17 bogs immediately, with extraction from the remaining bogs ceasing in the future. The decision has been a heavy blow for many rural communities, with up to 500 jobs set to go this year and there is grave uncertainty about the remaining 1500 jobs. Edenderry in Offaly is one of the communities affected, and is home to Unite Regional Officer Colm Quinlan who sits on the Bord na Mona Group of Unions. He believes the Government has been sleepwalking into an entirely foreseeable crisis which will devastate Midlands communities:
“In 2016, following intensive engagement at the WRC and Labour Court, a comprehensive cost-cutting agreement was reached which is due for renewal next year. This agreement was predicated on a phased reduction of peat production up until 2030, which would have required minimum redundancies with job reductions largely achieved as a result of natural attrition, and provided for some new jobs to be created during that period. “Now, the reduction in peat production is being accelerated – and even the latest plan is predicated on the finalisation of an agreement for Bord na Mona to supply peat to two ESB power stations in Offaly and Longford. Yet negotiations on this have dragged on for two years and the ESB has not yet finalised planning permission for the stations. “Unite has been urging Minister Richard Bruton to intervene to progress agreement between Bord na Mona and the ESB, while also lobbying at European level to ensure that workers and their communities can access an EU-wide ‘Just Transition’ fund”. “We are determined to ensure that Bord na Mona, its workers and the communities they sustain are not forced to pay the price for the decarbonisation needed to secure all our futures”, Colm Quinlan stressed.
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Regional Officer Colm Quinlan
The Group of Unions has reached agreement that any departure will be on a strictly voluntary basis and a Voluntary Redundancy package has been launched. We continue to engage intensively through the Group of Unions with management, to address the enormous challenges that will face the organisation and our members. It is clear that our engagement will have to extend further into the political arena with a view to generating value for the Midlands Community from the Just Transitions principles which everyone talks about but for which no meaningful budgets or plans appear to have been put in place”, Quinlan concluded.
UNITE WORKS uniteWORKS REPORT REPORT
Seas of solidarity – from the Aegean to the Atlantic Solidarity is hardwired into both seafarers and trade unionists, so perhaps it’s not surprising that that Unite member and Rathlin Ferry skipper Michael Cecil has a habit of rescuing those in distress – whether in the Aegean or the Atlantic. In September 2015, the heartwrenching images of drowned three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish Michael Cecil beach provoked widespread small rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) horror, along with a feeling of boats with divers on board had run helplessness. But as a seasoned sailor, into difficulties, their exact location Michael Cecil knew he couldn’t stand unknown. Having spent much of his by: “I realised there was a major crisis life navigating the local waters, Michael going on, and I made up my mind that knew how treacherous they could be. I was going to do something to help.” After making enquiries, Michael travelled to the Greek island of Lesbos in January 2016 to join a group of activists who had been given a former RNLI boat to carry out rescues. Michael and two other volunteers spent three weeks learning Lesbos’ coastline, designing training programmes for future crew members and rescuing refugees from the Aegean waters.
Although the September sun made the colours of the surrounding cliffs and hills sing, Michael knew the light bouncing off the choppy seas would it make that much harder to find the boats. He reckoned the boats would be drifting west with the tide and radioed the coastguard to let them know he and fellow crew and Unite member Connor McCurdy would keep a sharp lookout.
“People were coming across in unseaworthy inflatable boats that were disintegrating by the time they’d made the four or so miles from Turkey – 60 or 70 people in nine metre boats. It was harrowing,” Michael recalls.
Towards the western end of Rathlin Island – population 150 – two and a half metre swells were being whipped up by strong winds. Michael navigated around the choppier patches while Connor scanned the sea with binoculars, searching for the boats. As the ferry entered rougher waters in its search, the two men became increasingly concerned about the difficulties small RIBs would face in such conditions.
Michael’s first trip to Lesbos turned into one of many, the trickle of volunteers became a stream and the Rathlin Islander found himself chair of the newly formed Refugee Rescue charity. Fast-forward to Northern Ireland in 2018, and Michael was skippering the 2pm ferry to Rathlin Island. Passengers had just embarked at Ballycastle when he heard the radio crackle that two
Eventually Connor spotted the first boat as it bobbed up on top of a swell, but there was no sign of the other one. The divers were experienced, familiar with the area and suitably equipped, but
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that morning they had suffered a series of unfortunate incidents, starting with an engine failure on one of the boats. The second boat had attempted to tow the first with a line attached to a metal frame on its stern, but the heavy weather caused the frame to snap. This in turn resulted in the second boat losing radio communication and its engine, because the tow rope got caught up in the propeller. The three divers in the first boat pleaded with Michael and Conor to go to the aid of their friends. The spray was coming over the bridge now and the going was slower to avoid injuring the ferry’s passengers. About half a mile on, they came across the second boat, bobbing out of view beneath the waves. It was full of water and in danger of sinking or capsizing. Adrift for nearly an hour with no communications, the man and woman on board were seasick, cold and frightened. Coming alongside the much smaller boat to lift them off was a tricky operation. There was a risk the ferry could smash into the RIB, injuring the occupants or throwing them into the water. Conor went onto the lower deck and, with the aid of a Rathlin fisherman who was a passenger on the ferry, waited until Michael had manoeuvred the two vessels into momentary equilibrium, before hauling the divers on board. In the end Michael and Connor rescued all five divers, shocked but unhurt. Though performing sea rescues is not usually a regular duty for many trade union members, seafarers and trade unionists share a similar ethos when it comes to standing by those who are in need of help – whether in the Aegean or the Atlantic
BREXIT AND THE ‘BAILEYS QUESTION’ Nowhere is more exposed to the adverse impact of a Tory hard Brexit than the island of Ireland, where the need to maintain free and frictionless movement of workers and trade is of vital social, economic and political importance. Common EU membership allowed industries to trade freely and without friction throughout these islands. But the Tories’ botched handling of the Brexit process threatens that freedom. The ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ being stubbornly pursued by Theresa May – despite its overwhelming rejection by Parliament – fails to guarantee no hard borders or to deliver free and frictionless trade. “Unite represents workers across both jurisdictions on this island. The economies of Ireland, north and south, stand to suffer huge damage in a no-deal scenario in particular,” explains Davey Thompson, Regional Coordinating Officer (NI). “Any Brexit deal must guarantee free access to goods and services across borders, north-south and east-west. Workers’ rights must also be protected – not just in the workplace, but in the community and in relation to crossborder working and mobility.” The economic consequences of a hard border are clear to anyone familiar with
drinks giant Diageo, which produces Baileys and Guinness. 18,000 trucks carrying Diageo products criss-cross the border each year – and Baileys buys 11 percent of the Republic’s cream. Mallusk is in Newtownabbey, and Diageo workers there are worried about what Brexit may bring. Logistics administrator and Unite rep Alex Fitzgerald has worked at the site for 15 years and says a hard border could be “disastrous”: “Any tariff on cream from the Republic would send the cost per case shooting up – and there’s another Baileys plant in Dublin which is in the EU. Even without tariffs, any holdups would be disastrous for us.” A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Northern Ireland’s crucial agri-food sector. For example, 600 million litres of Northern Irish milk are processed in the Republic annually for products from baby formula to cheese – a trade which would be at risk from a no deal Brexit. A bungled Brexit could also lead to labour market problems, especially at firms like Ballymena poultry producer Moy Park, one of Northern Ireland’s largest private sector employers. “Recruiting and retaining workers has always been difficult in the poultry sector” according to Moy Park senior
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Any Brexit deal must guarantee free access to goods and services across borders, north-south and east-west. Workers’ rights must also be protected – not just in the workplace, but in the community and in relation to cross-border working and mobility.
Davey Thompson, Regional Coordinating Officer (NI)
shop steward Seamus Campbell, who pointed out that 65 per cent of the firm’s workforce come from the continent. A customs union deal would at a stroke protect trade and jobs. Unfortunately, Tory hardliners refuse any notion of a permanent customs union, risking stability in Northern Ireland and pushing negotiations ever closer to a no deal Brexit. The UK government’s red lines have helped ensure that the concerns of workers throughout these islands have not been addressed.
Joining the campaign for Pension Justice
Unite’s Irish Women’s Committee recently met with campaigners from the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign, who were born in the 1950s and had worked their lives in the expectation of receiving a pension at sixty only to find themselves expected to wait Smoth five years. The WASPI campaigners are not opposed to the gender equalisation of pension age but the way in which it has been enacted by the Tory government. It is estimated that 3.8 million women are affected by this change across Britain and Northern Ireland – a change which has effectively robbed women who have paid national insurance throughout
their working lives of tens of thousands of pounds in their retirement. And many women are still unaware that they have lost out. At the end of last year, campaigners – including from Northern Ireland – made their presence felt in the Westminster gallery during a debate on the issue. In the middle of the session, the Labour front bench led the entire opposition in applause for the indefatigable WASPI women and their unremitting campaign for pensions’ justice. Their campaign is currently seeking women to step forward so as to coordinate a tidal wave of formal
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complaints to the Department of Work and Pensions in London. After going through the initial, fourstage complaints procedure with the DWP, women are being encouraged to take the complaint to the Independent Case Examiner. The idea is generate so many complaints that the Government is forced to examine remedies for what campaigners term the “grotesque disadvantage” and financial loss suffered by the women. Unite’s Women’s Committee has endorsed their campaign and asks anyone born in the 1950s to step forward and help WASPI force the government to review its approach.
Months of hard work by Garry Russell and Ross Lister in the Organising Deparment bore fruit in November when nearly 100 young mechanical apprentices crowded into the Unite hall to learn how, collectively, they can help shape the future of the industry. At the end of the event an Apprentice Organising Committee was formed with the support of Gordon O’Neill, a long-time activist and shop steward with Haughton & Young. O’Neill will be working with the Committee to ensure that their concerns feed into the branch and Regional Industrial Sector Committee, and he said the message from the evening reflected a central tenet of union organising: “United we bargain, divided we beg!” Apprenticeships offer a path to a secure and fulfilling career – but apprentices
Regional Officer for Construction Tom Fitzgerald addressing the meeting
can also find themselves exploited by rogue employers seeking cheap labour. The meeting heard of instances where apprentices have only been registered by their employer six months or a year after starting – meaning that they are effectively required to serve four-and-a-half or five years rather than the standard four years. The apprentice is delayed starting their career. And, during the additional period, the employer benefits from fully-trained, skilled but cut-price labour.
Fitzgerald also told the meeting about the campaign waged by unions to improve terms and conditions in the mechanical sector, pointing out that unions have secured pay increases of over 30 per cent for apprentices since 2011, with current rates enshrined in the new Sectoral Employment Order.
As Regional Officer for Construction Tom Fitzgerald explains, unions have a vital role to play in ensuring that the apprenticeship system benefits apprentices and the sector as a whole: “Our message to apprentices is a simple one: organise! Abuses of the system are far less likely to occur in unionised workplaces, and where they do the union can and does step in”.
James McCabe is Secretary of the Construction Branch and a member of Unite’s Irish Executive Committee. He believes that young members are vital to the future of the sector: “Getting people to a meeting is one thing – but the really good news is that twelve lads came forward to be part of an organising committee. They now have a chance to help shape all our futures”.
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Unite in the community raising
Unite community members with a suicide awareness sign – Stephen Pollock, William McQuistion with Albert Hewitt, Community Coordinator. Northern Ireland is facing a concerning rise in suicides. Over three hundred people killed themselves in 2017, double the number fifteen years ago and the highest rate in the UK. Over the past twenty years, more people have died from suicide than died during thirty years of the Troubles. Suicide affects people from all backgrounds, but is most prevalent among young working-class men, in particular in deprived communities: North Belfast has the highest suicide rate in the UK. We need to make it acceptable for men to talk openly about depression and mental illness, and Unite Community members in North and West Belfast have been working on the ground and with suicide awareness groups to encourage that discussion. As part of that effort they wanted to reach out to those at the very edge. In early October, Community members erected a dozen metal ‘suicide awareness’
signs at Cave Hill country park in the north of the city. The signs offered helpline numbers and encouraged anyone contemplating suicide to talk. Albert Hewitt is Regional Community Coordinator and explained why Unite members from those deprived communities took the initiative: “Our members were fed up hearing about signs put up by local suicide activists being removed by the council, so decided to put their own permanent metal signs.” Community member Stephen Pollock lives in the west of the city and says lives in the west of the city and says the initiative was welcomed by everyone but the city council: “We engaged extensively with existing suicide awareness campaigners and got great support for what we did. Many of these groups have had their signs taken down by the council, so we decided to just go out and put up some permanent ones of our own. When we did our initiative received widespread public and media
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support – but then Belfast City Council complained to Unite saying we had cut across their plans for council signage. “I don’t understand their problem nothing is stopping them from putting up their own signs. The more the better as far as I’m concerned. If these signs help save just one person from taking their own life, that will make it all worthwhile”.
At the beginning of October, workplace reps from Harland & Wolff spoke at the launch of the Shipbuilding Charter at Belfast City Hall. Through the Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions, Unite and the GMB are asking politicians to act and guarantee a future for shipyards across the UK. 12 uniteWORKS uniteWORKSWinter Winter2018/19 2019
workers, including those in Belfast, the work from multi-billion pound Royal Navy contracts are currently in procurement. The workers have their sights on two contracts: the supply of three Type 31e Frigates and three auxiliary fleet solid support vessels. However, in what seems to be a cost-cutting exercise, the Ministry of Defence has inexplicably categorised these vessels as non-military – which means have to be subject to global competition under EU law. The CSEU Charter demands that politicians vote to support recategorising these contracts. That would guarantee that the work goes to UK shipyards, securing jobs and skills for another generation.
The event was attended by senior trade unionists representing the sector from across Britain and Northern Ireland. Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI represented businesses while a range of local politicians including East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson attended. All those attending signed up to the Shipbuilding Charter calling on the government to guarantee UK shipyard
Speaking at the launch, Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock called on Belfast’s political leaders to step forward before it is too late: “These contracts are critical to safeguard the future for our shipyard and Belfast’s strong skills-base. We have had a shipbuilding industry since 1791, and at its height Harland & Wolff employed thirty-six thousand workers. Sadly, ideologically-driven, laissez-faire policies since Thatcher
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have resulted in Belfast being left to compete with shipyards internationally who receive the full backing of their respective governments. As a result, the industry has been allowed to contract to the point that it is today facing a battle to survive”, Mr Pollock said. Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Susan Fitzgerald is lead officer for the shipyard workers and said: “We face the very real prospect of the iconic Harland & Wolff cranes being left as little more than a tourist attraction – but we still have time to turn things around. The potential exists to create thousands of shipyard jobs right across the UK. Unite is not prepared to sit back and watch while this city’s shipbuilding legacy is frittered away. “These contracts will buy the shipyard the space to further diversify into the growing wind and tidal renewable energy sector, for which our skillset and deep harbour are perfect. This charter is ambitious for our shipbuilding industry. We need our politicians to demonstrate similar ambition for the sector. We need to see delivery before it is too late”, Ms Fitzgerald concluded.
uniteWORKS Comment uniteCAMPAIGN
LEFT TO RIGHT: EC member Therese Moloney with IEC members Paula Brennan and Jan Gallagher BOTTOM PIC: IEC chair Jeff Robinson and IEC vicechair Carol O’Brien
Unite’s ‘Period Dignity’ campaign is a multi-strand campaign demanding that women and girls have access to sanitary products in the workplace and places of education. Women and girls are entitled to have a positive period. As Unite Regional Equalities Officer Taryn Trainor points out, “Women and girls can find ‘that time of the month’ inconvenient and embarrassing – but having your period is a natural process, and we believe access to sanitary products should be as normal as access to toilet roll”. The campaign is being rolled out throughout the Ireland Region.
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TIME FOR ACTION on mothers’ mental health services Unite’s Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (CPHVA) is the professional membership body for those at the coalface of dealing with perinatal mental health issues. That is why the CPHVA initiated a partnership with the Royal College of Midwives and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) to conduct a major study into the issue in Northern Ireland.
This pioneering research involved interviews with over three thousand healthcare professionals, and the results have been published under the title Time for Action. The study was launched at the NSPCC headquarters in Belfast and highlights the scale of the challenge facing the sector. The researchers estimate that, in 2016, between 3,611 and 7,223 women in Northern Ireland were affected by adjustment disorders and distress as a result of pregnancy, childbirth or becoming a parent. Although much lower at 48 each, the numbers suffering more severe postpartum psychosis or chronic serious mental illness were still unacceptably high.
Mary Duggan liaised between the CPHVA and the research team. Welcoming publication of the results, she stressed the need for government action: “Maternal mental health is a major public health issue. While there have been many reports published, this is the first time in Northern Ireland that practitioners involved in providing care to women and their families have been surveyed.
“Sadly, the results mirror other reports. It is apparent that workload pressures, lack of time and lack of financial investment all impact on the care provided to new mothers. It is unacceptable that mental health is not prioritised: it is indeed Time For Action”. According to the research, the main reasons that an estimated 70 per cent of women facing pregnancy-related mental health difficulties do not disclose them include fear of consequences, lack of continuity of healthcare, fear of being labelled and lack of confidence. Perinatal mental illness diagnosis relies on five tools: continuity of relationships, time spent in home
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visits, screening tools, time during appointments and communication with other health professionals. These are all being undermined by austerity cuts – the ultimate false economy. “At each stage of their journey, women deserve to have access and intervention from practitioners with the appropriate specialist knowledge and skills. The cutbacks mean this is being denied to them”, Duggan pointed out.
Caroline Cunningham NSPCC Senior Policy Researcher, Ethel Rodrigues, National Officer CPHVA; Mary Duggan, Perinatal Mental Health lead, CPHVA; Janet Taylor, National Chair, CPHVA; Susan Gault, Head of Public Health Nursing Northern Health and Social Care Trust. “Health visitors work with families and know that this illness can impact negatively on partners and children if appropriate support is not available in a timely manner. “This is an invaluable piece of research, but it should not have been left to Unite and our partners in the NSPCC and RCM to quantify the scale of the challenge we face in an effort to secure the needed investment. It’s Time for Action and the government must step up now to invest in perinatal mental health”, Ms Duggan said.
UNITING TO PROTECT SCHOOL TRANSPORT Free education must mean free school transport. The Department of Education’s sham consultation on school bus transport poses a serious threat to that right. Respondents are asked to choose between charges for school transport, an increase in the distance for free school transport eligibility, or restricting free transport to the closest school as opposed to the child’s school. None of these options are acceptable to Unite’s bus drivers in Northern Ireland. Working parents and those dependent on benefits simply cannot afford to fork out hundreds of pounds for school transport – and our rural bus services cannot afford to lose the revenue from this work. Safety Unite drivers are particularly concerned at moves to increase the eligibility distance, which they believe will put children’s lives at risk. No five-year-old
should be expected to walk over two miles to school and back, especially in rural areas where children are forced to share unlit roads with lorries, without even a footpath to provide a buffer. Equal choices The final option – restricting free transport to the closest school – threatens parental choice while potentially denying working class children the chance of educational advancement. All three options outlined during the ‘consultation’ would encourage further privatisation of bus runs, threatening our members’ livelihoods while increasing congestion by encouraging parents to save money by driving their children to school rather than relying on school buses. Where all options have the same outcome, there is no choice. In a cynical exercise, the Department is trying to play off rural dwellers
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against lower income households, while undermining parental choice – all in pursuit of austerity. Unite school transport drivers and engineers working for the Education Authority, Ulsterbus, Metro and Northern Ireland Rail have come together to launch an online petition rejecting these illusory ‘choices’ and the sham consultation exercise, and instead are calling for increased school investment. The petition also urges the Government to pursue the significant operational efficiencies which would result from Unite’s proposal to bring together Translink and Department of Education bus fleets. Unite drivers are already promoting their petition to parents and schoolchildren, and are calling on all political parties to back an ambitious alternative to the options put forward by the Department. The petition is available to sign at https://you.38degrees.org. uk/petitions/no-to-school-transportcharges-in-northern-ireland
Remembering John Ryder The church of St Nicholas of Myra in Dublin’s Liberties was full to capacity for the funeral of local man and full-time ESB Branch official John Ryder, who died suddenly on 27 December 2018. In a fitting tribute, John’s casket was covered by the flags of both Unite and the ATGWU, one of Unite’s legacy unions. The cortege was also adorned by a traditional Dublin Council of Trade Unions banner – itself designed by actor and union activist Jer O’Leary, who had passed away the day before John. As well as a wide circle of family, friends and union comrades, mourners included Unite Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock, former Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly, ICTU General Secretary Patricia King and Mandate General Secretary John Douglas. They joined John’s widow Lynda and children Katie and Paul to hear tributes to a loving son, father, husband and comrade whom Unite ROI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle recalled as both passionate and astute in defence of workers.
John’s passing at the age of just 51 is a terrible blow to all who knew him. A true ‘Dub’ in every sense, John was born and reared in Clanbrassil Street in the South inner city. He began his working life with the ESB at their Head Office and occupied a number of positions with the company before deciding to follow his trade union convictions and take up a full time position with the ESB Branch of the ATGWU (now Unite). As Brendan Ogle recalled at John’s funeral, in the years that followed John led many negotiations on behalf of our members, dealing with two of the biggest pension deficits in Irish pension’s history as well as many restructuring agreements. He also spearheaded the sale of Great Island Power Station in Wexford to Spanish energy giant Endesa securing the future of the plant, and valuable and necessary jobs in the process. During all these negotiations, he had just one goal: to protect workers’ terms and conditions of employment, and their jobs. John was also a man of great humour and mischief. None of John’s friends were safe in his pursuit of a laugh or
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a giggle. But he was also a loyal and trusted friend and ally who enjoyed sport, could throw a dart or two, and was handy at a pool table too. He was most of all though a working class ‘Liberty Boy’ who dedicated himself first to his family and then to workers, union members, in everything he did. Concluding his eulogy, Brendan Ogle recalled the words spoken by John Ryder’s inspiration, Ernesto (Che) Guevara: ‘Whenever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear and another hand reaches out to take up our struggle’. John reached many receptive ears in his efforts for our Union and our members. May he rest in peace
Politicsmatters! Have you checked out our political blog in the Republic yet? In the neoliberal era, Unite believe it is critical that modern trade unionism fights for members and their communities both inside and outside the workplace. The factors that impact on our members’ lives do not stop when they leave work, or end at what used to be referred to as ‘the factory gate’. We need to ‘unite for a real alternative’ to the failed politics and policies which have left ordinary working people unable to make ends meet in the face of a low pay crisis combined with spiralling housing and childcare costs, while 10,000 people are homeless and many more in housing need. Unite’s political approach is based on the Right2Change policy principles. Go to www.right2change.ie to find out more about the policy principles, and check out Unite’s political blog at www.uniteforarealalternative.blog. Most posts are written by Unite ROI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle, and the blog is regularly updated. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to receive new posts via email.
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GOOD NEWS FOR AUGHINISH AS US SANCTIONS LIFTED
Unite has welcomed the lifting of US sanctions against the Russianowned Aughinish Alumina plant and will now be working to ensure investment in the Limerick facility. Last year, hundreds of Aughinish workers – including many Unite members – found themselves caught in a geopolitical tug-of-war as the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a range of Russian companies, including Aughinish parent Rusal. Unite Regional Officer Ed Thompson says that the US Treasury decision to
lift sanctions against Rusal following the company’s promise to undertake significant corporate governance changes came as a relief not only to the workers directly affected but to the wider community: “While 450 people are directly employed by Aughinish, the plant also sustains hundreds of other jobs in the Limerick area. Since last April, workers were caught up in a geopolitical row not of their making. The turnaround was largely due to unions and management working together and lobbying to secure the
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future of the plant, which supplies around 30 per cent of Europe’s alumina”. While getting US sanctions lifted was a priority, Thompson points out that there is more work to be done: “Now that sanctions and the associated uncertainty have been averted, local management and unions must focus on securing investment in the facility to ensure the future of Aughinish going forward”.
A Dublin view of Europe In November ROI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle attended a conference in Ghent, Belgium and addressed the need for real dialogue about a fairer, better Europe. Below is an extract from his remarks. The rise of the European far right is being facilitated by the democratic deficit at the EU’s heart. No wonder people are cynical when the unelected European Commission refused to vindicate the wishes of nearly two million Europeans who signed the Right2Water European Citizens Initiative, and then dismissed the European Parliament’s vote to implement our human right to water. Public wishes expressed both directly and through participative democracy were ignored. And what are we to make of the EU’s refusal to see Brexit not as a demonstration of the need for massive structural reform, but as an excuse to further batter the British working class? Do the Eurocrats and Euro-politicos not realise that penalising people for crises not of their making has consequences in the ballot box? Do they not know that imposing the EU’s unsustainable fiscal rules on Italy will simply strengthen the electoral hand of that country’s farright leaders? Have they learnt nothing from the ruthless austerity imposed on
Greece, and the consequent growth of the fascist Golden Dawn party? We are told that the Irish are amongst the staunchest supporters of the EU. But working class support is wavering given the fact that the Republic – with just one per cent of the EU’s population – shouldered 42 per cent of total banking debt following 2008. And the 23 per cent showing by Peter Casey in the Presidential election shows that Ireland is not immune to racism and xenophobia. Yet those at the centre of the EU still believe that a systemic shift from social Europe to neoliberal Europe is safe and sustainable. They still do not see the link between lack of democracy in Brussels and far-right impulses among the voters of Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest or Rome – or even closer to home, in Britain. Neoliberal control is facilitated by media framing of the debate – but even neoliberals must now recognise that when the establishment shuts out and demonises reasonable criticism, unreasonable views will fill that vacuum. It seems that no counternarrative to the current neoliberal hegemony in the EU is permitted – which means that those presenting egalitarian social solutions to issues like Ireland’s housing
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emergency are ostracised and even ridiculed. This lack of democratic debate creates the perfect climate for far-right populism to grow. Where our institutions act as agents of privilege, that growth is not only inevitable but our ability to maintain and build tolerance and openness at community level is undermined. Our duty as trade unionists is to resist racism, xenophobia and hate speech. The EU’s duty is to embrace democracy, not only for its own sake but as a bulwark against extremism.
Unite wins reprieve for Kilroot power workers There is power in our union. After months of campaigning and lobbying, Unite welcomed the news that 270 jobs would be safeguarded despite the closure of generators at
Ballylumford B. The reprieve came ten months after 370 AES workers and contractors were threatened with immediate redundancy following the first all-island auction for electricity generating contracts. Although the auction was run by the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) under NI rules, it was conducted on an all-Ireland basis. As might be anticipated from an auction conducted on the basis of the dog-eat-dog logic of free market economics, workers at those plants where bosses submitted the highest cost bids were always going to be the collateral damage. In this case it was workers at AES operated Ballylumford B and Kilroot generators in Northern Ireland and those operated by Veridian at Huntstown in the Republic. Unite has always questioned the logic of the decision made by SONI and the Regulator’s rules, and we pointed out that the calculations used did not allow for exceptio nal demand surges, uncertainty surrounding the decades-delayed north-south electricity interconnector and the ongoing difficulties with the sea interconnector to Scotland. Studies highlighting the likeli hood of blackouts in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit further strengthened out case. After months of campaigning, SONI reversed tack and offered
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AES a one-year System Support Services Agreement contract for Kilroot power station. Unite Regional Officer Joanne McWilliams welcomed the aboutturn: “Unite has been campaigning since January to avert this jobs threat. Now, we must ensure that this contract rolls over for another year as widely expected. “But the news is not all good: Up to eighty AES positions will be lost with the closure of Ballylumford B power station. While we hope that most job losses will be achieved through voluntary redundancies across both sites, this still means eighty fewer jobs.” Outlining the union’s alternative approach to the market model dominating the all-island electricity sector, McWilliams pointed out that the concept of an energy market is not working and will not work: “It is designed to benefit shareholders rather than the public or workers. It is driven by right-wing ideology as opposed to common sense economics. “Electricity workers are footing the bill for the failure to invest in a managed transition to renewables which would involve upskilling to fill new jobs. Meanwhile our economy has been left reliant on last generation’s technology to ensure security of supply. We need a state-led approach predicated on nationalisation of this vital industry, north, south, east and west, opening the door to the large-scale public investment needed to create the energy jobs of the future”.
Unite archaeologists break ground with
Unite members working for IAC take action in Portmarnock Unite archaeologists working for Rubicon Heritage have secured a 9 per cent pay increase over 27 months. The agreement saw the grades of site assistant, site supervisor and director receive a 4 per cent pay increase backdated to October 1st, followed by a further 3 per cent on January 1st 2019 and 2 per cent on January 1st 2020. The agreement is set to run until the end of 2020. The deal was unanimously endorsed by Unite members and marks the first collective agreement in Ireland’s commercial archaeology sector. It comes amidst Unite’s ongoing dispute with the Irish Archaeological Consultancy
(IAC), which still refuses to negotiate collectively with workers. Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Richie Browne is in no doubt regarding the significance of the deal: “The agreement negotiated with Rubicon not only provides workers with a significant pay increase but also offers Rubicon certainty over the next two years. Other companies now need to follow Rubicon’s example by recognizing their employees’ right to representation, attending the WRC and negotiating collectively with their workers”.
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Jean O’Dowd is chair of Unite’s Archaeology Branch and believes the agreement points the way forward for the sector as a whole: “The success of archaeological consultancies is due to the skill and commitment of their workers. Rubicon has now recognised this by signing up to a deal which sets the standard for the entire commercial archaeology sector. Now we need to continue pressing for a Sectoral Employment Order which will not only ensure decent terms and conditions, but will provide both workers and employers with certainty going forward. This can only be good for our sector as a whole”.
MATTERS Unite marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities by joining with the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland to co-host a seminar on mental health in the workplace. The event was held just days after Unite members of the Community Practitioners & Health Visitors Association joined with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Royal College of Midwifery to launch pioneering research into perinatal mental health. Although anyone can experience mental health issues, high rates of mental ill-health in working-class areas tend to go hand-in-hand with work, social and financial pressures. In Northern Ireland, Unite is taking a lead in confronting these issues – both through our community membership (see story on page 15) and through partnership initiatives. Young mothers are particularly vulnerable as Unite member Mary Duggan, CPVHA chair, pointed out when welcoming publication of the collaborative research into perinatal mental health: “This is the first time in Northern Ireland that practitioners involved in providing care to women and their families have been asked for their opinion. Sadly, the results mirror other reports and indicate that workload pressures, lack of time and lack of investment all impact on the
Jim Downey of Hyster Yale which voluntarily signed up to the Equality Charter, with Una Wilson (Equality Commission NI). Jeff Robinson (Irish Executive chair) and Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock care provided to new mothers. “The NSPCC and the two unions representing healthcare workers at the forefront of dealing with this issue came together to produce this invaluable research, and we now need to see government action”.
workplace to create an environment that promotes wellbeing, including reasonable adjustments for mental illness. The Mental Health Charter being promoted by Unite in our workplaces is designed to facilitate a partnership approach to the issue”.
Unite officers and reps deal with mental health issues in the workplace every day and on December 3 – International Day of Persons with Disabilities – Unite co-hosted a seminar with Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission. Opening the event, Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock highlighted the need for employers to sign up to a voluntary Mental Health Charter: “It is the responsibility of everyone in the
The Mental Health Foundation has identified mental ill health as the leading reason for absence from work in Northern Ireland, accounting for almost one out of every three days lost (32 per cent of all days), while mental health issues also account for 39.1 per cent of long-term sickness leave. Speaking at the event, ECNI Commissioner Billy Gamble stressed that employers need to focus on mental
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International Womenâ€™s Day March 8, 2019
Unite Works Ireland - the magazine for Unite members in Ireland Winter 2018/2019