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(en) Freedom 6323 Nov 30 2002 - Friction at Dynamex

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 9 Dec 2002 02:48:24 -0500 (EST)


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If ever a case demonstrated how long it takes (if ever) for the
law to deliver justice to workers, it's that of 87 people sacked
by Friction Dynamex in Caernarfon, North Wales, in June
2001. Their case also highlights a major loophole in the
Labour government's 1999 Employment Relations Act,
which gives protection against dismissal for legally balloted
industrial action but only for eight weeks. Faced with a 15%
wage cut and a working day lengthened to nine and a quarter
hours plus other attacks on their conditions, the workers
balloted to strike for one week. There was a 98% vote in
favour, so they went out on 30th April 2001.
They returned after a week and were then effectively locked
out for seven weeks by their boss, American union-buster
Craig Smith. At the end of that time he sacked them all,
saying this was legal after eight weeks. "He locked us out for
seven of those eight weeks", explained Gerald Parry, chair of
the factory's Transport and General Workers' Union Branch.
"He said it was a holiday, even though no holiday pay was
paid.
"He was cynically using a loophole in the 1999 Employment
Relations Act - limiting protection to only eight weeks of
industrial action - to sack us in a way never intended by the
law. Even the police and businessmen in Caernarfon have
seen we've played it straight down the line. That's why the
Act needs amending."
Craig Smith's intentions were clear from the day he took
over the factory, which makes car components, in 1997. "He
tried to provoke unofficial action by refusing to negotiate
payrises, imposing changes in shift patterns and insisting
that holidays be taken as every Monday in the winter", said
Gerald Parry. "He also rigged the health and safety
committee to restrict the T&G to one representative, even
though it was the largest union. Then he made T&G
members redundant, and replaced them with temporary
workers, saying they wouldn't keep their jobs if they joined
the union.
"He had no intention of fulfilling the intention of the law by
negotiating. In addition to cutting pay and lengthening
working hours, he also cut the number of shop stewards,
closed the union office, didn't allow branch meetings on site,
refused to recognise the branch officials, withdrew time for
washing and cleaning in working hours, changed the holiday
agreement, withdrew shift pay and set up a stooge 'employee
council' controlled by management."
After a protracted and expensive hearing, an industrial
tribunal has indicated (seventeen months after they were
sacked) that the workers were 'wrongly dismissed'. They will
now have to wait even longer until the detailed verdict is
published. Even if the finding is that they should be
reinstated, such verdicts are rarely obeyed by employers,
who prefer to pay limited compensation (wholly inadequate
for the loss of a job) to discourage others from being trade
union activists.
The government has said it will 'look into' the eight-week
rule as part of its review of employment law. But what is
there to look into? If workers are entitled to protection for
eight weeks, surely their cause is even more just if they are
prepared to go without pay for longer still.
Mike Pentelow


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