18 Sep Airo AV Declares: Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East & Africa
Retail workers continue protests in Ireland and UK; South African and Nigerian health workers walk out; union sells out Zimbabwe nurses’ strike
Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East & Africa
18 September 2020
Ongoing protests by redundant Debenhams staff in Ireland and Manchester, UK
Staff made redundant at the Cork branch of Debenhams in Ireland occupied the store for two days last week. The occupation was part of a campaign by former Debenhams staff to win improved redundancy terms.
The UK-based retailer shut down its 11 stores in Ireland earlier this year, making over 1,000 staff redundant. Since the closure, the Mandate and SIPTU union members have picketed outside the closed store. The action has been taking place over 160 days.
The pickets are demanding liquidators KPMG agree to pay redundant staff four week’s pay for each year of service, rather than the statutory two weeks. The offer of an extra day’s pay for each year of service has been rejected. Since the stores closed, pickets have prevented the liquidators from removing stock from the closed stores.
On Saturday, around 20 demonstrated outside the UK’s Debenhams store in Manchester. The USDAW trade union members have held weekly protests demanding enhanced redundancy payments or to be furloughed.
On top of closures and 4,000 job losses announced earlier in the year, the company announced a further 2,500 job losses last month in the UK with the closure of department stores and distribution centres.
High street stores began shedding jobs before the pandemic due to competition from online retailers. They have been particularly hard hit since lockdown. The unions have limited action to protests, calls for no compulsory redundancies and pleas for talks with the company.
Protest by taxi drivers in Irish capital
Around 1,000 taxi drivers held a protest in Dublin on Tuesday to demand financial support from the Irish government. The taxi drivers from all over Ireland, including Cork, Galway, Kerry and Kilkenny, gathered outside Phoenix Park before processing in convoy to government buildings.
The National Private Hire & Taxi Association, the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation, and the Taxi Alliance of Ireland and Tiománaí Tacsaí na hÉireann members are calling for additional support to help them resume their trade. They currently get €203 or €350 a week from the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), depending on their previous earnings.
Demand for taxi services dropped by 70 percent during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand is still low, and if all taxi drivers currently in receipt of PUP returned to work demand would be even lower.
Gerard Macken of the Taxi Alliance of Ireland told the Irish Times several drivers had committed suicide in recent months because of financial hardship.
Strike threat by Irish building workers
Around 13,000 building workers in Ireland members have given 14 days’ notice of possible industrial action. This follows the refusal of some construction firms to implement a previously agreed pay rise of 2.7 percent, due from September 1.
The Unite and Connect unions announced the possible action on Tuesday following a meeting between the unions and the employer’s representatives, the Mechanical Engineering Building Services Contractors Association (MEBSCA) and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).
The workers involved are in the mechanical contracting sector, which includes fitting air conditioning, heating and ventilation equipment in buildings under construction. Those employers who have not implemented the increase are wanting to defer, citing financial strictures associated with the pandemic.
Separately, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has announced that workers in five member unions, BATU, Connect, OPATSI, SIPTU and Unite, voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action should employers fail to pay an agreed increase due on October 1 under a construction Sectional Employment Order (SEO). SEOs cover pay and conditions of employment.
In the summer, the Irish High Court ruled SEOs unconstitutional following a legal challenge by employers in the electrical contracting sector. The Connect union has 25,000 members covered by three separate SEOs.
The court also ruled that SEOs covering the mechanical construction and construction sectors were unconstitutional. However, following an appeal, the court put a stay on that decision, leaving two SEOs still legal.
The SEO covering general construction should lead to a pay increase of 2.7 percent on October 1. If the terms of the SEO are ignored, industrial action could begin. The employers organisations MEBSCA and CIF want the terms of the SEO to be deferred until March 2021, or until a new SEO is negotiated. The employers argue their costs have grown due to COVID-19 and they cannot afford the proposed rise.
Redundant Irish health care staff protest
Around 65 Irish care staff were made redundant by the Sisters of Charity when it closed its St. Monica’s and St. Mary’s nursing homes after liquidity problems. On September 9, they held a protest outside St. Mary’s and the Caritas centre on Merrion Road in Dublin.
The Forsa, INMO and SIPTU union members are seeking fair redundancy terms. The Health Service Executive and Sisters of Charity organisation were ordered by the Labour Court to resolve the issue but have so far failed to do so.
Protest marches by UK health workers
Hundreds of UK health workers marched through London on Saturday demanding a 15 percent pay rise. While Boris Johnson’s Tory government announced a measly pay rise for 900,000 public sector workers to supposedly thank them for their contribution during the pandemic, this did not include nurses or doctors.
Following a minute’s silence for the 640 health care staff who have died of the disease, they marched through central London.
Around 50 attended the National Health Service (NHS) protest in Piccadilly gardens,…