Saturday, December 10, 2005

Demonstrators march against slave ships on the Irish Sea

An Irish industrial dispute highlights exploitative employers using central Europeans as wage slaves. But Poles and others have helped to create jobs in Ireland and have not depressed wages.

As my plane took off from Dublin airport on my way home to Warsaw yesterday, marches were taking place all over Ireland in support of Irish Ferry workers. The company plans to sack staff and replace them with low paid, non-unionized employees from Latvia. AP reports that:

More than 10,000 labor union members protested Friday in Ireland's capital and other cities over shipping company Irish Ferries' plan to replace its workers with low-paid Eastern European immigrants in the country's most bitter industrial showdown in decades.

Irish Ferries, a subsidiary of Dublin-based Irish Continental Group PLC, earlier this year offered its 543 unionized workers on its main Britain-Ireland routes payoffs worth 25 million euros ($30 million) if they quit voluntarily.
But when the company two weeks ago began introducing new workers, chiefly from Latvia - who were willing to work for 3.60 euros ($4.25) an hour, less than half of Ireland's minimum wage - union chiefs seized control of two ships, forcing the company to shut down services at an estimated loss of 2 million euros ($2.5 million) a day.

Many demonstrators – including Poles and Lithuanians – carried banners saying ‘Stop outsourcing’ and ‘No slave ships on the Irish Sea’.

But the Irish Confederation of Employers warns that Irish Ferries might simply close down and hire other firms outside the country to do the work for them at much lower labour costs.

But you won’t find many Irish people complaining that Poles and others have harmed their booming economy and are dragging down wages. In fact, wages are increasing way beyond the EU average. And while there are around 65,000 registered Polish workers in Ireland at the moment, unemployment rates have not gone up – they have gone down! In the last 12 months, 70,000 new jobs have been created, and the Irish unemployment rate remains at 4.3 percent – again, around half that of the average rate in the Euro zone.

The reason why Ireland and the UK welcomed people from the new EU accession states was that the economies in those countries are performing much better than on mainland Europe. As long as Ireland continues with growth rates of 4 or 5 percent you won’t be seeing anyone setting up an Irish national Front anytime soon.
Good economies have nothing to fear fro migrant workers. So it’s no surprise that fear of the Polish plumber is most acute in places like France where the economy is about as dynamic and agile as an edible snail.


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