Thomas Cook workers ignore order to end sit-in

 

Former Thomas Cook workers staging a sit-in occupation at the company’s Grafton Street premises may risk prison after deciding to defy a High Court order to vacate the building.

Mr Justice Michael Peart heard the 45 former workers had been told by their union that they needed to obey the court order to vacate the premises. However, they decided by a unanimous vote to continue their protest, which began last Friday.

The mainly female staff are in dispute with the company over redundancy payments. Thomas Cook say that they are prepared to talk to the workers if they vacate the premises.

The judge gave the workers until 7pm to comply with the court order but he was told by counsel for their union, John Nolan, that they rejected the legal advice to end their occupation.

When they failed to comply, the judge issued an order for attachment and directed that the gardai arrest any people on the property and bring them before him at 2pm tomorrow. Mr Justice Peart said “every reasonable opportunity” was given to the workers to comply with the order.

The court said Superintendent at Pearse Street Garda Station is to be informed of the order to have all those individuals brought before the High Court tomorrow afternoon.

Last Saturday Thomas Cook secured an interim injunction, against the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, its general secretary Gerry Doherty and more than forty named individuals, ordering them to leave.

Mr Justice Peart today made that interim order an interlocutory injunction, pending the outcome of the full hearing of the action. He said there was “no question” that the actions of the defendants were unlawful. He was satisfied that the individuals were aware of the terms of the order and the consequences of being in breach of it.

Mr Justice Peart adjourned the matter several times today so that the workers could be fully informed of the terms of the court order.

Seeking the injunction, Mark Connaughton, SC for Thomas Cook, said the defendants had no right to be on the property, were trespassing, and were blatantly in breach of a court order. Counsel said that the company wanted “the matter to be brought to an end.”

He said that the company is prepared to enter into negotiations with the staff over the redundancy package once the occupation of the premises had ended. The company claims that no notice of industrial action was served on it, and the protest could not be classified as peaceful picketing.

The judge had given the TSSA and its legal representatives till 6.30pm to advise and inform the workers of the implications of the court’s order. This evening the court heard that the decision to comply with the orders had been rejected after going to a vote.

Shortly after 7.15pm the court was informed by John Nolan, counsel for TSSA, and its members that the staff had decided to ignore legal advice and instructions it had received from the union to leave the premises.

Earlier the court received undertakings from Mr Doherty that he would comply with the orders of the court to vacate the premises.

Mr Nolan said that Mr Doherty had gone above and beyond what the court had ordered, but it had been difficult to communicate with the individuals at the store. Counsel said he received subsequent information that the workers had decided to ignore legal advice.  Mr Nolan said that in light of that refusal he and Gavin Carty, of Kent Carty Solicitors no longer wished to represent the workers and applied to come off record.

Mr Doherty, the court heard, conveyed the legal advice he received, but added that he could not give undertaking as to what the staff at the Grafton Street offices would do. Mr Doherty said there was a lot of anger among the workers and he said they felt they had been badly treated in their negotiations with the company.

The outlet in Grafton Street had been due to close at the end of this month but management decided on Friday to close it which led the workers to stage a sit-in.

The workers want an improved redundancy deal of eight weeks for each year of service. The company is offering five weeks for each year of service. Staff, who are all members of the TSSA, voted unanimously for strike action when the company announced that it was going to close the two shops and make all the staff redundant.

Earlier today about 150 people staged a rally outside the Grafton Street office in support of the workers. At the protest, Lord Mayor Emer Costello, who knows some of the workers, said she found the situation heartbreaking for staff and their families.

“The people that are there in Thomas Cook have given a lifetime service to Thomas Cook and have been very loyal workers,” she said. “I find it very disheartening that people have to go to those lengths to try and protect their jobs. It’s a very bad situation. I’m very disappointed that Thomas Cook feels it has to shut down its Irish operation.”

Trade union leaders from Mandate and Unite also attended

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councillor Richard Boyd Barrett, with the People Before Profit group, said the Government should step in. “Our Government should not allow employers to act in this fashion. They should intervene,” Mr Boyd Barrett said.

Antoinette Shevlin, a worker with Thomas Cook for almost 10 years, said the staff were determined to fight for their rights. “We’ve had people making collections and dropping money in,” the 36-year-old from Lucan said. “We’ve had food dropped in … little old ladies are coming along with scones.”

Audrey Forrister (40) from Coolock, who has worked for the travel giant for 11 years, said they wanted a fair redundancy package. “With the amount of service and loyalty that we put in ... it just doesn’t seem fair to us,” she said.

Additional Reporting: PA