At lunchtime today a general meeting of the more than 40 members of the Unite trade union voted unanimously to take this next step in support of three colleagues who face compulsory redundancy.
Pickets will again be placed outside the Embassy on Merrion Road in Ballsbridge and at the British Ambassador’s residence in Glencairn. “There is a real sense of purpose among the Embassy workers,” said Unite Regional Officer Colm Quinlan after the meeting. “They are determined to support their colleagues and to stand firm with regard to their own future security of employment.”
Over 40 members of Unite, including trade and industry staff, passport section workers, administration officials and household staff from the Ambassador’s residence picketed the British Embassy in a first one-day strike on Thursday, February 7th, after Ambassador David Reddaway refused to attend the Labour Relations Commission for talks. A skeleton staff of British diplomats manned the headquarters in Ballsbridge as their colleagues took to the streets with banners.
Derek Simpson, General Secretary of the Unite Union which has over 2 million members in Britain and Ireland, has written personally to the British Foreign Secretary David Milliband, MP, asking for his intervention and for "common sense to prevail".
Dublin is the only British embassy worldwide that recognises trade union membership, and there has been a positive and agreed set of procedures dealing with issues and disputes since 2003.
The decision on the compulsory redundancies, which is understood to have originated in London, falls outside those agreed procedures. The individuals affected are locally recruited managers, dealing with UK trade and investment matters in Ireland. Between them they have 20 years of service at the Embassy.
It has also emerged that embassy staff members have lodged a claim for up to € 500,000 in unpaid PAYE allowances, to which they were entitled over the last eight years. The British Embassy - like many others - claims it is not obliged to pay PAYE, because of its diplomatic status. But Unite says other embassies pay money in lieu of the allowance, which the British Embassy stopped doing eight years ago.
Members of the embassy staff are officially registered as "self-employed" and pay and declare their own taxes. Although their employer deducts PRSI, it has never paid PAYE, meaning staff are not eligible for the allowance. Unite has estimated that employees are due a cumulative bill of up to € 10,000 per staff member, amounting to a total bill of between € 250,000 and € 500,000.
Last week the Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, TD said that his department had "encouraged" all foreign missions in Ireland to operate the PAYE system for locally hired staff in June 2005.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said that the British Embassy should "come to its senses". It accused the embassy of "failing to abide by agreed procedures" by forcing redundancies.
"I find it rather disappointing that the embassy should see fit to ignore the established industrial relations procedures and machinery of this State," said ICTU General Secretary David Begg.
British Embassy staff cannot speak publicly about the dispute, because they are bound by the UK Official Secrets Act. So once again we can see how - after more than 86 years of nominal Irish independence - British laws and rules have still influence on this country and some of its citizens.
The Emerald Islander