OVER FIFTY workers on strike at the Irish Cement plant in Limerick have vowed to continue their picket until they receive increments owed to them.
The workers say they are owed between €5,500 and €9,500 in salary increments, as recommended by the Labour Court in December last.
However, staff said the company would only offer to pay the monies owed if they accepted an 18% wage cut, which was refused by the union.
Up to 25 Limerick workers will be travelling to Dublin this Wednesday to lobby TDs and meet union officials in the hope of resolving their dispute.
Now four weeks on the picket line, which is manned 24 hours a day on a series of shifts, the workers and their families are beginning to feel the economic effects of the strike.
Shop steward William O’Shaughnessy, an employee of 15 years, said: “All we’re trying to do is get the company to abide by the Labour Court recommendations. It saddens us to be out here. We don’t want to be out here at all. We’re all happy working men. We have made sacrifices and taken on extra work practices, but the company are just taking advantage of the situation and holding us to ransom.”
Mr O’Shaughnessy said while there appears to be no end in sight to the official dispute - backed by SIPTU, the TEEU Union and Unite – he does not believe the company would close the Castlemungret production site as its carbon credits are worth millions of euro every year.
“We’re here a month now and we are finding it tough. It’s hard to get by when all you have is strike pay to keep you going. Most of the men have arrangements made with their banks to freeze their mortgages, but not all are that lucky,” he said.
Ger Considine, a 46 year-old, third generation Irish Cement worker, said workers can’t afford to pay their bills when they are receiving strike pay of just €125-€200 each week.
“We can’t survive on €200 a week. It’s pocket money, but you won’t get any bills paid. At the end of the day no one wants to be sitting beside a camp fire,” the father of two told the Limerick Leader.
Eugene Martin, 53, from Toor, Newport, said if anything the strike is getting “stronger and stronger”.
The employee of 36 years recalled that the last time workers were out on strike was in the 1970s, on an unofficial strike for over six months, but he hopes this strike won’t last that long. The company in Limerick employed around 550 employees in the 1970s, reduced to just 75 in recent years. The workers said they are now counting on their elected TDs and ministers to advance their case. “Willie O’Dea talks the talk, but he’s not in power. Maybe Jan O’Sullivan..This is Michael Noonan’s constituency. He should be doing more for us,” said Mr Martin.
Pat Walsh, a father of two from Ballyclough, said: “There’s no worker that wants to be at the side of the road. I’m here 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” Irish Cement have condemned the action as “irresponsible”, and said pay rates are higher than the average industrial wage for unionised staff, but this was disputed by SIPTU.