Over 1,000 supporters attended the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Rally for Jobs and Workers Rights at Belfast City Hall yesterday in the wake of 1,600 people joining the dole queues in the first week in April — and 15,000 over the past six months.
Firms like Bombardier, Nortel, FG Wilson and especially Visteon were in the firing line as speaker after speaker highlighted fears of worse to come.
Government policies and the Assembly’s perceived lack of |action were the main thread running through the speeches from the platform in front of the City Hall, where the main speakers |included Peter Bunting and Patricia McKeown from the ICTU, Jimmy Kelly from the union Unite and Andrea Hamilton (Nortel), David Thompson (Bombardier) and John Maguire (Visteon).
It began with a colourful march along Royal Avenue. Flags, banners and placards were prominent. Sit-in workers from the Visteon plant at Finaghy dominating the parade with their message — ‘Betrayed by Ford’ — accompanied by women with |babies in prams, dozens of children and ‘solidarity’ posters.
Ford workers from England — Enfield and Basildon — travelled across to lend their support, among them union representative Rod Finlayson. Visteon/Ford plants there are also suffering from closures and redundancies.
Workers from Nortel, Bombardier, Visteon, Nu-Track, Translink and officers from the National Union of Journalists were among the crowd which assembled in front of the platform for the rally, with Mr Bunting of the ICTU the main speaker.
Translink drivers and staff were a main element in the protest, with all Citybus services stopped during the hour of the rally.
Mark Watson, a senior shop steward with the transport firm, said: “Translink are climbing on the bandwagon of redundancies as well. They are calling for 75 redundancies across the board, and that we fear is just a start.
“Railways, buses and administration would be affected — all this despite the fact that business is improving. But we oppose any redundancies, whether voluntary or forced.”
Brian Rice, a senior shop steward with Bombardier, said the union was setting up talks with management to try and stave off some of the 1,000 pending redundancies.
“We realise there is a downturn in the ordering of the companies private jets,” he said.
“But we are confident we can persuade management to look to the future and ride the storm with fewer lay-offs.
“Our relationships with them are good, it has to be said.”
And Mark Copeland from Nu-Track in Antrim said there had been nine lay-offs at the firm which makes buses for the various education boards.
The rally homed in on the Bombardier redundancies, the closure of Visteon, the lay-offs at FG Wilson’s (the latest of which were 180 in February), 87 at Nortel and the closure of Seagate at Limavady with the loss of a 1,000 jobs.