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Tough talking from Taoiseach worthless unless he takes action on Irish Ferries - Morgan

12 October, 2005


Sinn Féin spokesperson on Employment and Workers Rights Arthur Morgan TD has accused the Government of standing "idly by as slave ships dock in Irish ports." Speaking on the exploitation of workers by Irish Ferries in the Dáil this evening Deputy Morgan described Chief Executive of Irish Ferries Eamonn Rothwell as a "parasite" and said, "Tough talking from the Taoiseach is worthless if neither he nor any of his cabinet colleagues are willing to take action."

He said, "Are we to stand idly by as slave ships dock in Irish ports, twiddling our thumbs on the quays of Rosslare or Dublin port as young, foreign, vulnerable workers slave 12 hours a day, 7 days a week on board ferries operating on the Irish Sea and on the routes between Ireland and France. Because that is what the Government is doing now.

"Tough talking from the Taoiseach is worthless if neither he nor any of his cabinet colleagues are willing to take action. It will mean nothing to workers like the Latvian crewmember on the Irish Ferries ship the Normandy, Ms Oksana Karamjana who had the courage to speak out and who outlined on Prime Time how she 'had a three months contract 7 days a week 12 hours a day with no holidays or no days off.'

"The Government amendment to the motion before the House tonight includes a line calling on Irish Ferries 'to reconsider its proposal to outsource employment on its Irish Sea routes and to examine alternative viability options for these routes.' Is that it? Is that the totality of the Government response?

"Are we to bow to the will of parasites such as Irish Ferries Chief Executive Eamonn Rothwell who creams off in one hour what it will take the new agency workers two and a half weeks to earn?

"Last week in this House Sinn Féin tabled a motion which denounced the exploitation of workers on board ferries operating under flags of convenience out of Irish and EU ports. It sought to get unanimous Dáil support for a demand that the European Commission urgently introduce a European Ferries Directive, to combat 'social dumping' on ferries and set minimum labour standards in order to ensure an end to the exploitation of workers on intra- EU Passenger and ferry services.

"I challenge the Government to abandon its laissez faire attitude, to step forward with a sense of social justice and approach this issue with the will to resolve the situation, with the will to ensure no worker on board any ferry operating out of an Irish port is subjected to exploitative working conditions." ENDS

Full text of speech:

Are we to stand idly by as slave ships dock in Irish ports, twiddling our thumbs on the quays of Rosslare or Dublin port as young, foreign, vulnerable workers slave 12 hours a day, 7 days a week on board ferries operating on the Irish Sea and on the routes between Ireland and France.

Because that is what the Government is doing now.

Tough talking from the Taoiseach is worthless if neither he nor any of his cabinet colleagues are willing to take action. It will mean nothing to workers like the Latvian crewmember on the Irish Ferries ship the Normandy, Ms Ok-sana Ka-ram-jana who had the courage to speak out and who outlined on Prime Time how she "had a three months contract 7 days a week 12 hours a day no holidays no days off".

There will be no change where there is no will to change.

There have been a lot of times in history when people could have stood back and made excuses. Slavery would not have been abolished, child labour could persist in Ireland and Europe, universal suffrage could be but a pipe dream . But some people had the courage and will and sense of social justice to change those things for the better. To fight for what was right, to make the case for those less able to make the case for themselves. They had a sense of justice that this government blatantly does not have. The members of this Government who shrug their shoulders in the face of the ongoing march of worker exploitation clearly have no empathy with the exploited workers.

The Government amendment to the motion before the House tonight includes a line calling on Irish Ferries "to reconsider its proposal to outsource employment on its Irish Sea routes and to examine alternative viability options for these routes". Is that it? Is that the totality of the Government response?

Are we to bow to the will of parasites such as Irish Ferries Chief Executive Eamonn Rothwell who creams off in one hour what it will take the new agency workers two and a half weeks to earn?

Irish Ferries is a profitable company which is able to pay its chief executive an excessively high salary. The company has chosen to reject an independent Sparks and King consultant report on this matter. They are merely trying to cut costs. I have asked this before and I ask it again, when exactly did it become acceptable for employers to cut costs by exploiting workers? Irish Ferries have approached this matter in a bullying manner, threatening that the company will offer only statutory redundancy and will exit the Irish Sea routes altogether if their proposals aren't accepted within the limited time frame which they set. Allowing Irish Ferries to proceed with this plan would be the most regressive act in respect of workers rights that this state has experienced.

For many workers at Irish Ferries the deal being presented by management leave them with no option. Who would seriously expect them to take massive cuts in pay and accept the shredding of their terms and conditions in order to remain with the company. Let us make no mistake about this, these workers are being pushed out.

Sinn Féin unlike this Government is committed to defending and extending workers rights and to bringing about an improvement in the living and working conditions of all workers.

There are solutions to this problem and it is inexplicable that the Government is not even attempting to pursue them.

Last week in this House Sinn Féin tabled a motion which denounced the exploitation of workers on board ferries operating under flags of convenience out of Irish and EU ports and noted the failure of the draft ferries directive which was withdrawn in August 2004 following the failure to reach a final agreement at the Council of Ministers. It sought to get unanimous Dáil support for a demand that the European Commission urgently introduce a European Ferries Directive, to combat 'social dumping' on ferries and set minimum labour standards in order to ensure an end to the exploitation of workers on intra- EU Passenger and ferry services.

From Minister of State Gallagher's comments last night I gather that the Government has no intention of pressing the European Commission to bring forward such a directive. His comments clearly illustrate that the Government is willing to trample all over vulnerable workers on the premise that it would be uncompetitive for Ferries to operate with proper pay and conditions for workers. If it is uncompetitive for them to pay their workers properly, let them go out of business and we can establish a state ferry company to serve the people of Ireland.

I also want to ask what is being done in respect of the possibility of introducing a licensing regime for ferries operating out of Irish ports. This is a system that has been employed in other jurisdictions.

To be honest I am not sure that Minister of State Gallagher, on the basis of what he said in his contribution to this debate last night, fully understands the import of what is underway at Irish Ferries.

He said it was not for him to seek to determine an independent company's business strategy. This attitude is the crux of the problem. The Government cannot be a disinterested bystander. It must be prepared at all times to intervene to protect the interests of the disadvantaged and marginalized in this case the interests of workers who are to be subject to the reprehensible working conditions that Irish Ferries wishes to impose.

The Government also has a role to play in preventing the displacement of workers who are covered by employment agreements, with weakly positioned people on inferior pay and conditions.

I challenge the Government to abandon its laissez faire attitude, to step forward with a sense of social justice and approach this issue with the will to resolve the situation, with the will to ensure no worker on board any ferry operating out of an Irish port is subjected to exploitative working conditions.

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