by Frank Schnittger
Wed Mar 3rd, 2010 at 08:07:02 AM EST
Jim Wyse is now entering his third week on hunger strike and John Guinan his second. They are due to be joined by a third hunger striker, John Recto, today. John Recto was told he had to call to Naas Garda Station this morning, where he was informed that his work visa has not been renewed as he is no longer at work - despite the fact that the Labour Court has ruled that he was unfairly dismissed. He was told he has until March 8th to leave the country. He is from the Philippines and has been working at Green Isle Foods for the past three years. His wife and three children, aged six, seven and one year old, are living with him in Naas. His youngest child was born in Ireland.
Ironically March 8th is also the day when Cork City Council, Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council are to discuss motions on the Green Isle Foods dispute. Dublin City Council passed a motion on Monday night calling on the company to accept the Labour Court recommendation made last December as the basis for resolving the six months old dispute. The Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, representing the men, has already accepted the recommendation.
The union’s General Secretary Designate, Eamon Devoy, said, “If the company had accepted the Labour Court recommendation last December this would not be happening today. It is a tragedy for John and his family, who have been struggling like the other families to survive for the past six months of the dispute.
“It is one of the most shocking experiences I can recall in my 25 years as a union official that any family has had had to undergo in the middle of an industrial dispute.”
John Recto said he was going ahead with the hunger strike regardless, “I have mixed emotions naturally about what has happened today, but we agreed this was the only way to make the company come to the table and I am ready to go ahead as planned. It is a big challenge, but I am ready for it.”
He added that he had first been notified by the immigration authorities that he was required to call to Naas Garda station for interview two weeks ago. When he arrived this morning at Naas Garda station an immigration officer asked him for his passport, proof of residence, a copy of the Labour Court Recommendation and John’s Garda ID card.
“He recommended that I write to the Minister for Justice for an extension of the visa. As my family is dependent for residence in Ireland on my visa they will also have to leave.” John said that his one year old son had an Irish passport.
Talks have been taking place but have been unsuccessful to date. Over 40 hours of talks have taken place since the hunger strike began, and the strategy appears to be to try and exhaust the hunger strikers. The Irish Independent has withdrawn a defamatory article from its website and a huge amount of disinformation has been spread throughout the mainstream media. Throw a little mud about porn and its remarkable how well it sticks. Just to mention it is enough to make most people close their ears to all further facts and argument.
I have written a letter to the editor to all Irish and some UK newspapers but I have little hope that it will be published. It's OK to defame hunger strikers without legal resources, but not to criticise a company with instance access to the High Court whenever it wants to squash a story. My unpublished letter to the editors, deliberately written from a management perspective, is as follows:
In my 25 years as a manager in increasingly senior human resources, corporate communications and information technology management positions in Ireland and the UK it was always part of the culture that you took responsibility for what went wrong on your watch.
It seems Green Isle Foods PLC operates to a different philosophy. Two of their employees are currently on hunger strike - to be joined by a third on Wednesday - in protest against the dismissal of six of their colleagues in defiance of an Irish Labour Court ruling that they should be reinstated or compensated.
What happened is that Green Isle Foods management inadvertently gave their employees access to confidential corporate information and also failed to put spam filters in place to prevent inappropriate e-mails entering their inboxes. Some of those unsolicited e-mails - from an anonymous British source, turned out to have adult content hidden in attached files.
Most companies would be extremely apologetic to their employees and shareholders for allowing this to happen, but not, apparently, Green Isle foods. They sacked six of the engineering workers who had previously accessed the confidential corporate information (which included a plan to terminate 6 engineering jobs) out of the many staff who had received the offending e-mails - including one employee who received but never forwarded any of the offending e-mails
In the meantime their employees, Jim Wyse and John Guinan, are in the 13th. and 6th. days of their hunger strike respectively whilst the manager who is in charge of the IT and audit functions responsible for these horrendous security lapses now spends his time doing media interviews accusing the dismissed employees of "downloading porn" when they didn't even have internet access nor control over what unsolicited e-mails could enter their inboxes.
He is also the author of the management report into the debacle which, perhaps unsurprisingly, recommended that the employees be disciplined rather than drawing the obvious conclusion that, if anybody should be dismissed, it should be the report author as the manager responsible.
Green Isle Foods is a subsidiary of Northern Foods PLC which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and which has been dramatically underperforming the market since January - perhaps because investors have become aware of the 840,000 member Irish Congress of Trade Unions call for a boycott of all Green Isle and Northern Foods products including Goodfellas and San Marco Pizzas, Fox's Biscuits, Donegal Catch fish dishes, Grassington's meals and Holland's Pork Pies.
If that call for a boycott is also adopted by the 7 Million strong British Trade Union Congress as requested, the outlook for Northern Foods looks grim. Perhaps then some Northern Foods and Green Isle executives will be forced to take some accountability for their own negligence and stop the defamation of their employees as pedlars of porn and their scape-goating for accessing confidential corporate files not intended for them.
Turning down offers of mediation from the labour Relations Commission and seeking to exacerbate a dispute whilst claiming to be trying to resolve it is a strange human resources management tactic, and the Company might also review their human resources management policy in the light of having lost two other Labour Court determinations and one Employment Appeals Tribunal case recently.
The quality of our industrial relations institutions has stood Ireland in good stead in recent decades, and at this time of national emergency, the last thing we need to do is to destroy the national and social cohesion those institutions have fostered. Forcing employees into a hunger strike to vindicate their right to be represented by their union and protected by the institutions of the Irish state is not the way forward.