Ged Nash has accused the Premier Periclase company of conducting themselves in a ‘high handed and offensive’ way in efforts to end industrial action taken by workers at the magnesia plant in Drogheda.
The strike action began on Monday August 17 with 40 union members holding a picket line on the Boyne Road outside the plant at Stagreenan. The company proposes to lay off staff or put them on reduced hours while transferring work to non-union labour and retaining contractors on site.
Workers also say the company have suspended their sick pay scheme and their failure to meaningfully engage has lead to the strike action going ahead.
Strike action had been threatened last month and was originally scheduled for Monday July 20th but that was deferred after parties agreed to talks with the Workplace Relations Committee. A longstanding collective working agreement was in place at the plant but workers and Union representatives feel the agreement is being disregarded.
Deputy Nash has written to Premier Periclase to express his concerns at the treatment of the workers by the company, and he has called on the firm to withdraw a letter issued to staff last week as an act of “good faith” and to enter negotiations with Unite and SIPTU without pre-conditions.
Last Friday, a letter was issued to workers at the plant in which the company stated that the collective agreement between parent company RHI Magnesita and workers at the Premier Periclase plant was ‘no longer valid’. A voluntary redundancy package was put on the table by the company on Monday, remaining valid for one week.
The company have said they will not negotiate with employees who are on strike action.
Nash has also asked that the firm seeks to resolve the issues at stake through the established industrial relations framework which has been in place at the plant since 1998.
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In a letter written and sent to the company, Deputy Nash wrote that treatment of workers at the plant was abhorrent. “I am writing to you as a local TD, trade unionist and former Minister for Employment to express my abhorrence at the treatment by Premier Periclase of its loyal and committed workforce in Drogheda.
“I am extremely concerned at the fact that the company, long respected in my home town, has taken the decision to unilaterally set aside established industrial relations norms and conventions in its dealings with workers, dispensing with a collective agreement which has been in place since 1998 and which has been proven to have served the company well in often challenging times.
“Your failure to meaningfully engage in the WRC process established in good faith with Unite and SIPTU in July represents not only a slap in the face to the workers who are in dispute with the firm but the height of disrespect and disregard for the industrial relations institutions of our State,” he wrote.
Deputy Nash, a former Union official and Minister for Employment, declared last Friday’s letter issued to employees as an ‘ultimatum’ and described it as a transparent attempt to isolate workers.
“Your ultimatum issued to striking workers dated the August 21 is high handed and offensive in the extreme and is a clear and transparent attempt to isolate workers with a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. The workers affected by the company’s actions have shown themselves to be flexible and pragmatic in responding to financial challenges which the company has faced in the past. The success of the firm has been built on their hard work and loyalty.
“A resolution to the situation in which you say the company finds itself can be identified by utilising the existing industrial relations framework which has been in place since 1998, and by engaging meaningfully with Unite & SIPTU and without pre-conditions.
“In order to do this, I would request as a national representative of the people of Drogheda, Louth and East Meath that you, in the first instance, withdraw the letter issued on the 21st August as an act of good faith and in an effort to move these pressing issues on.