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Peter Hadden

Belfast Airport Workers

Setting the True Record Straight –
A Reply to Unite Leader’s Slanders

(Summer 2008)

From Socialist View, No. 21, Summer 2008.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

[This includes the initial statement, Setting the Record Straight, by Jimmy Kelly of Unite.]

The sacked Belfast airport shop stewards have campaigned tirelessly for over six years demanding justice from their former employer, airport security firm ICTS, and from their union, the T&GWU/Unite.

During this time they have become accustomed to slanders and disinformation being spread, mostly behind the scenes, in an attempt to discredit them. Now we have a new statement on 28 May 2008 from Unite Irish Regional Secretary, Jimmy Kelly that carries on in the same vein. It is titled, Setting the record straight, an absurdly incompatible headline for a statement that does just the opposite.

The statement, as with a press release from Unite issued at the same time, doesn’t stop at denigrating the shop stewards, it goes on to attack the Socialist Party and, by inference, all those trade union activists from many unions who attended the protests at Transport House.

Worse, this statement was then circulated by ICTU to all its Northern Ireland affiliates, thus giving the impression that it represented the official view of the trade union movement. The Socialist Party has written to ICTU to register a protest that this was done without allowing the shop stewards or the Socialist Party any opportunity to respond.

This has left us with no option but to reply to the points raised by Jimmy Kelly and in the Unite press statement and to take steps to make sure that this reply is widely circulated within the trade union movement.

To describe Jimmy Kelly’s depiction of recent events as bordering on fiction would be to understate the case. His opening paragraphs contrast his role, and that of Tony Woodley, with the role played by the shop stewards and the Socialist Party. Paragraph two opens by declaring that since first taking up dealing with this dispute the leadership of Tony Woodley as General Secretary and Jimmy Kelly as Irish Regional Secretary has been totally committed to bringing this issue to an honourable conclusion.” The three opening paragraphs of the statement are similarly littered with warm adjectives to describe their role; words like “honourable”, “genuine” and “sincere” keep cropping up.

By contrast “anti union”, “completely unhelpful”, “disgraceful” and “sectarian”, are just some of the adjectives used to describe the intervention of Socialist Party members who it also finds guilty of “lies and personalised attacks”.

Fortunately adjectives and entirely unsubstantiated accusations are no substitute either for facts or arguments, or else it would be game set and match to the Unite leadership. When the true facts are presented it soon becomes clear that the picture drawn by Jimmy Kelly is almost an exact inverse image of the reality.

The only way to demonstrate this is by examining what actually happened, down to some detail. And to give a complete picture it is necessary to deal, not just with what is said in the Unite statements, but to also include some of the key facts that Jimmy Kelly has chosen to leave out.

He makes no mention of how the whole thing began; particularly of the fact that the T&GWU official responsible for the airport, Joe McCusker, colluded with ICTS to have 24 workers, including all the shop stewards, sacked. Or that he was helped in this by the then leadership of the union, including General Secretary, Bill Morris, who first of all backed the strike and then repudiated the action, giving ICTS a green light to sack 24 of the strikers. All the shop stewards and anyone else with a record of union activity were dismissed.

Nor does Jimmy Kelly mention the fact that, in 2003, when Tony Woodley was preparing to replace Bill Morris, he (Woodley) negotiated a rotten deal with ICTS. The sacked workers were to be offered a pittance in compensation out of which they were to be expected to pay back all the strike pay they had received from the union. Seven workers were to be reinstated but not one of the shop stewards was to be taken back.

ICTS had set out to get rid of the shop stewards. They were able to achieve this in 2002 thanks to active collusion by the local T&GWU official and outright betrayal by Bill Morris. One year later Tony Woodley negotiated a deal which would have achieved exactly the same thing. Had the workers accepted Tony Woodley’s advice that “this was the best deal they would get” there would have been no Tribunal case and no ruling that the shop stewards had been victimised because of their trade union opinions and socialist beliefs. ICTS would have been off the hook.

Fortunately they followed the advice of the shop stewards and unanimously rejected the Woodley deal. This fact alone explains why we can not sign up to Jimmy Kelly’s view that the current T&GWU/Unite leadership has been trying to achieve an “honourable resolution” from day one of their involvement. But it is not the only reason. Worse was to follow.

From the moment the workers rejected the Woodley “settlement” the union effectively turned its back on them. Woodley told them they had no chance of winning a discrimination case. Even when they won an initial legal victory, securing a ruling that their strike was legal and confirming this ruling in the Court of Appeal, the union still would not come behind them. They were left to fight the entire battle on their own, relying on their own resources.

As is now well known, the long and tortuous legal process came to a conclusion in the summer of 2007 with the claims of unfair dismissal for the workers, and the additional claim of political discrimination for the shop stewards, upheld. This victory, which Jimmy Kelly accepts “it is in the interests of all trade unionists to defend”, was achieved with no assistance from the union. It left the shop stewards and the sacked workers with crippling legal bills they could not pay.

“Olive branch” offering

Did the T&GWU/Unite leadership really recognise the importance of this legal ruling? On 11 June 2007, just after the Tribunal hearing had ended, but before a judgement had been given, Gordon McNeill wrote to Tony Woodley, Jimmy Kelly and other senior officials offering them an “olive branch” in the form of a meeting to resolve all their differences so that they could jointly use the potential legal victory to help build the union. This offer, which could have avoided all the conflict of the last twelve months, was spurned. Gordon received neither an acknowledgement nor a reply. (The full text of this letter is on the shop stewards’ blog –

The entire responsibility for what has happened since then rests with Jimmy Kelly and Tony Woodley, the senior officials who dealt with the matter. Unfortunately for them, the evidence to back up Jimmy Kelly’s claim that they concentrated their efforts “on having a genuine and sincere attempt at resolving this dispute” is just not there.

The facts of what happened over the last year speak for themselves on this. Gordon McNeill’s 11 June letter went unanswered. It took protests in August, and again in September, to get Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly to meet the shop stewards.

At the September meeting, the union agreed to pay the outstanding legal fees, meet the full costs of an appeal and to make an offer of compensation within seven days. Tony Woodley insisted that the discussions on compensation be carried out through solicitors; a position they have held to ever since, thereby – as we shall see – forcing the shop stewards through a new trapdoor of accumulating debt. Also it was the union side who proposed that the legal team who handled the Tribunal case be retained to defend the appeal. It was on the basis of these promises that the shop stewards agreed to suspend further protests.

The subsequent protests, including the recent hunger strikes, have not been over any difference of principle – all that the shop stewards have been asking is that Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly implement the promises they made in September 2007. There were ongoing and repeated protests only because the union continually reneged on these commitments. They did not renege in the sense that they took the promises off the table. Rather they kept making the promises, and kept doing nothing to implement them.

The Unite leadership reneged in the manner of an evasive debtor, with broken promises and missed deadlines. Only when the shop stewards, in complete frustration, resumed their public protests and also resorted to the desperate measure of hunger strikes, was there any movement. Whenever the shop stewards stopped protesting and did nothing except wait, Jimmy Kelly and Tony Woodley likewise did nothing.

Two months after the September agreement the Unite leadership had not implemented a single one of the commitments they had made. The workers, in accordance with what had been agreed in September, had employed their legal team to handle the appeal. With no agreement on their costs and the outstanding legal bill still unpaid, the barristers were threatening to drop the case.

At this point the shop stewards began a new protest at Transport House. It was in response to this that the Unite leaders made the £106,000 part payment of the outstanding legal bill that is cited by Jimmy Kelly as an example of the union’s “good faith”. The barristers returned to the case in the expectation that this meant the union would agree to pay them.

“Normal legal process”

Jimmy Kelly’s statement claims the union entered into the “normal legal costs process with their solicitors” to sort out the rest of the bill. There is no explanation of what he means by this. In fact both sides agreed at this time that the outstanding portion of the bill would be submitted to the Taxation Court. Unite would then pay the amount the Court deemed fair.

This never happened because the union, in by now characteristic fashion, pulled out of this agreement and would not refer the matter to the Taxation Court. No other “normal legal process” was put in place and there was a stalemate on the issue that was only broken during the most recent hunger strike.

At the start of this year a meeting took place between solicitors representing both parties to discuss compensation and other outstanding issues. Following this meeting, Fintan Canavan, who represented the shop stewards, wrote them a letter outlining what happened. According to this letter the meeting ended with an agreement, confirmed by a telephone call to Tony Woodley, that a special Finance and General Purposes Committee meeting would be called within days to agree an offer. The meeting was never called. (The full text of Fintan Canavan’s letter can be read on the shop stewards’ blog.)

At the start of April not a single issue had been resolved. The Appeal case, due to be heard in April, was put back, partly because the union had not agreed the barristers’ fees. Their patience exhausted, the workers began a hunger and thirst strike at Transport House. The union response was, as during the most recent protest, to refuse to meet or discuss with them so long as they continued to protest. This was a Catch 22 situation since, whenever they were not engaged in some form of protest, there were no meetings, no promises and no progress.

The April hunger strike ended when they received, through their solicitors, a commitment to resolve the issue of the legal bills and to make an offer on compensation by the end of the month. That deadline passed with no movement, to be replaced by new deadline of 6 May which was, in turn, ignored.

These delays, plus a new letter from the union solicitors which moved all the goalposts by proposing strings on any future compensation offer and which refused to set any timeframe for progress, were the final straw for the shop stewards. They began a new hunger strike, determined that it would be the last and that it would not be ended for mere promises. After a week and a half the union finally gave way on the legal bills.

Jimmy Kelly states on this: “It has taken (through no fault of the union) up to May 22nd to finally reach an agreement on legal costs”. In fact the delay has been entirely the fault of the union. Following the November 2007 agreement they failed to go the Taxation Court. The solicitors who had handled the appeal then lowered their bill. There was now only a small monetary difference between what they were asking and what the union was offering. The stalemate on this amount dragged out for months with no mechanism in place to resolve it, and was only broken by the May protest.

Empty words and empty promises

As for the delay on agreeing the barristers’ costs for the appeal; the difference between what was asked for and what the union was offering has turned out to be a quite paltry sum. In his statement, Jimmy Kelly’s acknowledges the importance of the appeal. If these were anything more than empty words the union would surely have been at pains to ensure that a good legal team was in place long enough in advance to properly prepare the case. After all, the better prepared the legal team, the more chance or winning. And if they won, their legal bill would be zero, as costs would be awarded against ICTS.

In a similar vein, his claim that Unite “will get behind this appeal process with our own supportive campaign in the trade union movement” appears to be nothing more than hollow rhetoric. The appeal was re-set for 24 June. At the time of writing there are less than two weeks to go to this date and there has been not so much as a hint of such a campaign. The idea has not even been raised with the shop stewards who, you would have thought, would have been involved or at least made aware of any such activity.

The attempt by Jimmy Kelly and Tony Woodley to pose as the careful guardians of members’ money from “shyster” solicitors just doesn’t hold up in light of all these facts. What has happened since last September has not been the careful and necessary financial husbandry they would like us to believe; at the very best what they have been doing is spending pounds in a failed attempt to save pennies.

The interminable missed deadlines and delays that followed the September agreement, combined with the union leadership’s insistence that all talks take place between solicitors, have set a new financial clock ticking.

In particular, every obstruction, every fruitless exchange between solicitors, has meant that the financial trap door they had placed under the feet of the shop stewards in September has kept on swinging open. The new legal bill that has been forced on the shop stewards by this prevarication is now greater than the total combined amount of the legal fees and the appeal costs that they were supposedly trying to save!

How much extra all these delays have cost Unite in legal time and expenses is another question – one for Unite members to ask. It took eight months and three protests, including the two recent hunger strikes, to get the Unite leadership to fulfil their commitments to pay the legal fees. But the third commitment – on compensation – remains outstanding.

Most of the venom of the Unite leaders has been reserved for this issue. Jimmy Kelly raises a number of reasons why the union either should not or cannot pay compensation. He argues that Unite has no legal obligation to pay anything and then says that any money given could, in any case, be regarded as a double award and be recoverable by the court. These arguments are all red herrings, as he himself unconsciously acknowledges by going on to state that the union is, nevertheless, prepared to “explore an area of financial assistance”.

Since last September, the issue has not been whether the union could or should offer redress for the hardship it has caused. Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly both agreed at that time to make an offer, well aware that there are umpteen ways to do this without legal hitches. The issue since that time has been their failure to live up to his promise. Rather than do so the Unite leaders have resorted to a slanderous campaign to try to discredit the shop stewards. Unite’s May press release disgracefully dismisses Gordon McNeill’s hunger strike as “an undignified money grab”.

Jimmy Kelly’s statement reinforces this sordid image. It states that the union has paid out £130,728 in “hardship payments and grants”, mentions the £40,000 held by the solicitors that will now be released “to Bowyer/Gupta/McNeill” and then talks of the £750,000 awarded by the Tribunal. All in all it would seem from this that the shop stewards have done very nicely indeed! However Jimmy Kelly, in using these figures to create an impression of greed, is being somewhat economical with the facts.

Strike pay

He does not tell us that almost all of what he refers to as “hardship payments and grants” is actually the strike pay which Bill Morris agreed to pay after he was forced, somewhat shamefacedly, to recognise the struggle of the sacked workers for reinstatement as an official dispute. Tony Woodley ended these payments in 2005. For some reason he took this step just at the time the workers won their Appeal Court judgement that the strike was lawful.

Jimmy Kelly also leaves out the rather important detail that this money was paid equally to 22 sacked T&GWU members, nor to three shop stewards. Nor does he mention the fact that the Tribunal, in deciding the amount of the award, deducted all the money the workers had received from the union, before coming up with a final figure. So – through no fault of the union it is true – the sacked workers ended up not a penny better off from the strike pay.

Similarly with the £40,000 “being withheld by their own solicitors”. This is not extra money; it is merely a refund of the money the workers scraped together over the years to keep the solicitors on the case. Moreover, with the bill settled, it will now be released to all the 22 workers who contributed, not just to the shop stewards.

And the £750,000 Tribunal award? The actual figure is just over £680,000 and, as with the above amounts, this was awarded to the 21 sacked workers who saw the case through, and not only to the shop stewards, as is implied in Jimmy Kelly’s statement.

This deliberately concocted image of a “money grab” is reinforced by the claim made in the recent Unite press statement that the shop stewards are each demanding a million pounds compensation from the union.

Long before Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly issued this press statement the shop stewards had made it clear directly to the union as well as in their public statements that they were not seeking a million pounds. During the April hunger strike, when Unite statements also made this allegation, the shop stewards responded by publicly making clear this was not their demand.

“Make an offer”

They explained that the million pounds figure had only come up because their solicitor, using money paid by the union to two British Airways shop stewards sacked over the Gate Gourmet dispute as a rough and ready reckoner, had put it forward on the shop stewards’ behalf. When it was rejected, the solicitor’s response was simply, “make me an offer”. The protests in April and May were not over the million pound demand, which, by then had been taken off the table; they were over the on-going refusal of the union to make any offer, despite repeated promises that they would do so.

On 23 May, more than a week into the latest hunger strike, the shop stewards, through the legal teams, informed the union of the figure they would consider a reasonable settlement. The amount they suggested was neither a million pounds, nor anything approaching it. The union press release, with its slanderous accusation of a million pound “money grab” was issued three days after this information had been passed to the union.

If, when they released this statement, Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly were not aware of the actual figure put forward by the shop stewards for negotiation, then the lines of communication within the union must have been down and should surely have been reopened before they rushed to print.

If they were aware of the figure, then their statement is a conscious lie issued with only one purpose – to discredit the shop stewards and to throw up a smoke screen of disinformation to disguise their own role. Jimmy Kelly states that the union has now offered “a not insubstantial amount in full and final settlement of this case.” What he does not say is that this “offer” has come tightly packaged with strings. It includes a gagging clause prohibiting the shop stewards from ever publicising this dispute.

Put in plain language this is not compensation – it is a bribe. Jimmy Kelly and Tony Woodley are offering money in return for complete and permanent silence about the role played by union officials over six years. They are offering this to workers who have run up debts to fight this long battle, including the new legal bill the union has, in reality, run up for them, and are desperately in need of money.

It is truly a sad day for trade unionism when senior union officials offer workers who, through no fault of their own, are in a vulnerable financial position what, in effect, amounts to hush money to prevent them from ever telling the true story of what happened to them.

It is also a sad day for trade unionism when union officials use the police and the courts to deny members the right to protest. Jimmy Kelly’s statement talks vaguely about the union offices not being “available as a place or a space for anti-union activity” but avoids spelling out what, in practice, he means by this.

Gordon McNeill soon discovered the full meaning of this not so veiled threat. The May hunger strike ended shortly after he was served with a court injunction barring himself, his fellow shop stewards and their supporters, from protesting “in or at” Transport House. The papers seeking this injunction, and, with it, the threat of fines or even imprisonment, had been signed by Jimmy Kelly.

Using the courts and the cops

The use of the courts and police to ban workers from protesting casts a different light on Jimmy Kelly’s complaint, directed both at the shop stewards and the Socialist Party, of “anti-union activity” that is “cheered on by local employers”. Any discredit that may have attached to the union during this long dispute, and any encouragement employers may have taken from it, is down to the actions of the union leadership, not to the shop stewards or any of their supporters.

After all it has been the union leaders who have aped the tactics of the worst anti-union employers – employers like ICTS – in the way they have responded to the demands and protests of the shop stewards.

Whenever the shop stewards have protested at Transport House, the union leaders have done as employers now routinely do during strikes and insisted that there would be no talks and no negotiations unless the protests were suspended. They forget that this whole dispute began in 2002 after ICTS similarly insisted that there would be no talks on a pay rise unless the strike action was suspended

Employers do not always resort to victimisation and sackings to rid themselves of “troublesome” shop stewards and activists. More often than not they have a dual approach: the velvet glove as well as the iron fist. Inducements that can be offered to bring shop stewards “on board” don’t necessarily have to be in the form of financial backhanders – opening doors to promotion to supervisory, even management roles, can have the same effect. Employers are adept at finding ways to attempt to buy complicity and silence; that is no more than we expect. But we expect better of trade union leaders.

On the other hand, an “iron fist” approach in the form of injunctions and threats of court action is also very much the stock in trade of employers, especially now as workers find themselves bound up in the straitjacket of anti union legislation. There was a local example in 1997 when strikers at Montupet were served with injunctions and threatened with huge fines and imprisonment if they continued to picket and protest at the factory gates. Now we have union leaders making similar use of the courts to deny the airport shop stewards and their supporters their right to protest.

Whatever encouragement, if any, employers will take from this dispute will be from the fact that union leaders have borrowed tactics and methods from the strike breaking manual of the bosses and used them to try to break protests by their members.

Dark stain

If there is now a dark stain on the reputation of the T&GWU/Unite it has not been the actions of the shop stewards that have put it there. From day one of this struggle they have made it clear that they have no dispute with the membership of Unite. Their battle has been with the top leadership, firstly with Bill Morris and now with Tony Woodley.

Their protests, over more than six years, have never been anti-union, but have been in defence of real trade unionism. There was nothing anti union about exposing and then opposing the cosy relationship between their union official, Belfast International Airport and ICTS.

Nor was it anti-trade union to demand answers to the question why their union leadership colluded with their employer to have them sacked. Or to demand that the present union leaders implement commitments they had made.

And, when the leadership stabbed them in the back on all of this, it was not anti-trade union to protest in order both to put them under pressure and to make the membership fully aware of all that has been going on.

Perhaps most contemptible of all in a statement that substitutes half truth and innuendo for argument are the disgraceful remarks Jimmy Kelly makes about the Socialist Party. Socialist Party members are accused of “lies and personalised attacks” and of “at times sectarian involvement”.

Slanderous Allegations

To make such serious allegations, and to do so without so much as a single word, never mind a fact or an argument to back them up, amounts to nothing more than slander. We challenge Jimmy Kelly either to substantiate these allegations with evidence and facts or else publicly withdraw them.

For the record, the Socialist Party has not and does not engage in personalised attacks. We make no apology for exposing, and continuing to expose the role of those trade union officials who have been involved in the six year long mistreatment of the airport workers. When we have criticised officials it has been for their actions and nothing else. Our criticism of Joe McCusker and Bill Morris, for example, was over what they did six years ago to set this whole dispute off. That is not a personalised attack. Nor are the criticisms we have made of the way Jimmy Kelly and Tony Woodley have dealt with this drawn out and still unconcluded endgame.

If Jimmy Kelly thinks we have told lies, he should go further and tell us what they are. All we have done in helping the shop stewards, two of whom are members of our parry, to publicise their case is to set out the facts as we know them.

Worst of all is the accusation of “at times sectarian involvement”. The Socialist Party has a proud and consistent record of opposing sectarianism in all its guises in Northern Ireland. Throughout the Troubles, while most of the left capitulated to one degree or another to the sectarian pressures, the Socialist Party/formerly Militant stood for and fought for the unity of the working class as the only way forward.

Jimmy Kelly is a member of the Socialist Workers Party, one of the groups on the left which did bend politically under the pressure of the sectarian forces. The SWP, through most of the Troubles, dismissed the idea of class unity, arguing that Protestant workers were “privileged”, “reactionary”, even “racist”. Here is a sample of what they said:

“The fact that, from the Protestant worker’s point of view, the privilege is pretty small, matters nor at all. When tuppence half-penny is looking down on tuppence, the half-penny difference can assume an importance our of all proportion to its actual size. The same is true for the ‘poor whites’ of the southern states of the US or the skin head racists of the National Front in Britain.” (Socialist Worker, No. 25, April 1986.)

“In this sense Protestant workers can be compared to the poor whites of the Southern states of the USA. Their cheap labour goes hand in hand with their racism.” (Socialist Worker, No. 21, December 1985).

We can’t say that Jimmy Kelly ever shared these views. But he is a long-standing member of an organisation that for years, if not decades, simply wrote off the Protestant working class. If he never thought it necessary to challenge the leadership of his party over statements such as the above, we can only scratch our heads and wonder what worse things Socialist Party members can have done and said to prompt him to speak our now about our “at times sectarian” intervention.


We think Jimmy Kelly owes us all an explanation on this. In the meantime we are at a loss to understand how any aspect of a campaign to support and defend three shop stewards, one a Catholic, one a Protestant and the other a Hindu, could be construed as sectarian.

“Honourable”, “sincere” etc. may not be adjectives to describe the role of the Unite leadership to date in all of this. But there is an honourable way our that would resolve the issue and strengthen the union. First and foremost, the injunction barring protests should be unconditionally lifted.

The gagging clause should be removed and the compensation offer made without any strings. There should be an acknowledgement from the Union leadership of its mishandling of this dispute and an honest attempt to learn the lessons. The shop stewards, for their part, would assist in this. But if the Unite leadership do not give way, other means will have to be found to make sure that Unite and other union members are made aware of the full facts of what has happened and to ensure that the appropriate conclusions are drawn.

There are many rich lessons of this dispute that would become clear from a full, derailed and truthful telling of all that has happened. First and foremost it has shown the need for the unions to break from the all too cosy relationships that have been developed in the Thatcher and post-Thatcher years with both employers and governments.

For example, what happened at the beginning of the dispute poses questions that still needs answers about the relationship between Bill Morris and the Labour government in that post-9/11 period when airport security was a central issue and averring strikes by security staff was high up the political agenda.

The relationship between Unite and Labour endures – to the financial benefit of New Labour and the detriment of Unite members. Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly’s concern about how the members’ money is spent could start with the £3.5 million they gave last year to the Labour Party; surely the largest hang- man’s tip in history. Or they could look at the salaries and expenses and other perks of top officials.

The courageous actions of three shop stewards, which has drawn such ferocious ire from the upper echelons of their union, can help put the need for fighting democratic unions, with officials elected and on the wage of the members they represent, back centre stage of every union activist’s agenda. It can strengthen the trade union movement, but only if the full facts are known, nor suppressed by injunctions, bribes and gagging orders.

The following is the statement, entitled Setting the Record Straight, which was issued on the 28 May 2008 by Jimmy Kelly, Irish Regional Secretary of Unite:


Transport House,
102 High Street,
Tel: 02890232381,
Fax: 02890329904,


28 May 2008

Setting the Record Straight

Our Union has deliberately stayed out of the publicity surrounding the dispute between the Transport and General Workers Union and Chris Bowye, Madan Gupta and Gordon McNeill. We took this decision because we wanted to concentrate all of our efforts on having a genuine and sincere attempt at resolving this dispute, a dispute which originated nearly seven years ago and is inherited by this current leadership.

Since first taking up dealing with this dispute the leadership of Tony Woodley as General Secretary and Jimmy Kelly as Irish Regional Secretary has been totally committed to bringing this issue to an honourable resolution. All of the time working towards this goal with the invaluable support of our General Executive Council and the Irish Regional Committee.

The publicity campaign against our Union has at times been relentless through the use of widely circulated Anti Union emails on the Internet. There has been a completely unhelpful and at times sectarian involvement by socialist party members in Belfast with disgraceful Anti Union behaviour, including lies and personalised attacks on Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly.

None of their publicity has presented the fact that we are genuinely working towards an acceptable and honourable resolution of this dispute. They have achieved an under-mining of our Union and are being cheered on by local Employers who are only too happy to exploit this opportunity.

Unfortunately some genuine and well meaning trade unionists have believed the lies that were spread on the internet.

The Union has also been subjected to threats of hunger strikes and the regional office in Belfast has been taken over through various protests. Using the threat of a hunger strike as a weapon or a tactic in a dispute like this against the Union is just not acceptable. Banners denigrating the good name of our Union have been erected on the front of the Union office. Our union members particularly those of us living and working in Belfast have been confronted with at times daily attacks on our Union. This is made all the more unacceptable because of the support, including financial support given to the three involved in this dispute by our union members in Belfast.

Legal Costs

We were asked by Bowyer/Gupta/McNeill to consider covering their legal costs associated with the Tribunal hearings in their case. We agreed to work towards doing this and as an act of good faith on our part we paid £106,000 up front to their Solicitors, Breslin McCormick in December 2007. We then entered into the normal legal costs process with their Solicitors. Throughout this costs process our Union has been subjected to occupations of the Union offices, further claims by BowyerlGuptalMcNeill that they were on hunger strike and public accusations that the Union had reneged on their promise to pay all the costs, which was blatantly not true.

It has taken (through no fault of the Union) up to May 22nd 2008 to finally reach an agreement on legal costs. This has meant the Union paying a further £44,000 to Solicitors Breslin McCormick. This has also meant the releasing of £40,000 to Bowyer/Gupta/McNeill money that was being withheld by their own Solicitors pending settlement of the costs issue.

Tribunal Appeal Costs

We were also asked to consider paying the legal costs that will be incurred through the appeal process now that the Employer has decided to appeal the tribunal decision. With the support of our Finance and General Purposes Committee we have agreed to pay the costs associated with the appeal instigated by the Employer, even though this is an unquantifiable cost at this point. Our Union will get behind this appeal process with our own supportive campaign within the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. It is in the interest of all Trade Unionists that this Tribunal decision is not overturned, this is where anyone genuinely interested in wanting to help in this dispute should be lending their support and energy and not in attacking our Union.

Tribunal Award – Compensation – Hardship Payments and Grants

Our Union has been helping financially from the beginning of this dispute and is something we do in all disputes anyway without making public statements. Because of all the Anti Union statements in this case and in order to put the truth on record we have established documented verification that our hardship payments and grants in this dispute have amounted to £130,728.

The only appeal to our Union following the Tribunal result and Compensation awards to Bowyer/Gupta/McNeill was that we would cover the legal costs. This was requested from the Union on the basis that if their legal costs were met by the Union then the Tribunal awards would not be affected for them as individuals by having to meet the legal costs out of their Compensation awards.

Therefore as can be seen from this summary on their request for legal costs and on our Unions initiative in covering Tribunal Appeal costs we have folly met our promises and commitments on this matter. These areas will not now cost Bowyer/Gupta/McNeill a penny.

The third area which Bowyer/Gupta/McNeill have raised is that they want the Union to award personal payments to each of the three. The Union has been advised that there is no legal foundation on which to base this consideration. The Tribunal has awarded compensation of varying levels totalling £750,000 attaching reasons and headings to each level of compensation.

The legal advice to us is that if our Union were to award repeat payments under any of these headings it would result in the Tribunal awards being lost in any subsequent appeal, thereby rendering the three no better off financially and indeed only rewarding the Employer.

Even with this legal advice the Union has explored a possible area of financial assistance with a not insubstantial amount in foil and final settlement now being offered to Bowyer/Gupta/McNeill. We have done this so as to clearly demonstrate that on all aspects of this case our Union has now done everything possible in the interests of an honourable resolution of the whole issue.

Our future is dedicated to organising non union work places across Northern Ireland and fighting back for workers. Our Union now considers this dispute totally resolved and the Union has no outstanding matters to answer. We will not be accepting any further interference with our responsibilities and duties as an independent Trade Union organisation.

Our Union offices will not be available as a place or a space for Anti Union activity. We will not be held responsible for the actions or consequences of anyone threatening or taking part in hunger strikes. Those taking part in these activities must now take responsibility for their own actions. We will now set about undoing the damage done by those behind the Anti Union activity. We will try to get our genuine efforts at resolving this issue communicated as widely as possible.


Jimmy Kelly
Regional Secretary

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Last updated: 18 July 2015