Over 150 workers at north Dublin pharmaceutical plant face being put on unpaid leave from today. Shift workers at SK biotek in Swords will be put on protective notice.

Connect trade union shop steward Ms Ruth Russell has said that SK biotek bought the plant from Bristol-Myers Squibb and signed an agreement protecting staff terms and conditions of employment. This transfer of undertakings, protection of employment, TUPE, agreement is there to protect workers’ pay and conditions for a period. That agreement was to last up to 2022. Within six months, this company, SK biotek, issued a 22-page document detailing a raft of changes which, Ms Russell claims, the company has refused to negotiate. SIPTU members are also involved in that. There are 94 SIPTU members and the remainder of the 150 are Connect members. They rightly have taken industrial action.

This is outside the bounds of the labour laws in this country.

The TUPE regulation is a recognised part of legislation in this country, but the company is railroading and threatening the workers. Deputy Pringle referred to the letter which states:

While colleagues on Lay Off may have entitlement to Job Seekers Benefit you should also note that colleagues involved in Picketing due to Industrial Action have no entitlement to same. In addition to this, I must advise that should any colleague engage in Picketing for any period of the duration of Lay Off this also will disqualify them from Job Seekers Benefit. To receive Job Seekers Benefit colleagues must be readily available for work.

This has been used against workers previously.

This is a multinational company that is ignoring the industrial relations machinery in place and the Government has a policy of bringing such companies into the country. It is trying to put the workers under pressure, even before they go to the WRC by making them accept onerous terms. The Government must step in and instruct multinational companies that they cannot treat workers in this country in that way.

Some of the workers have been working at the plant for over 30 years. They have invested their lives in the companies that have operated at it. SK Biotek commenced operations at the plant in December 2017 and gave a commitment to bring forward a contract of five years under the transfer of undertakings legislation. That is important legislation in protecting workers’ rights. It was used when workers transferred from the local authorities to private companies providing bin collection and other services.

Multinational companies should be told specifically that they must abide by the undertakings given. They cannot come back with a new set of onerous conditions after six months and tell the workers that they must accept them before going to the WRC. It is welcome that the company has written to the trade unions and that they have stated they do not want preconditions.

I hope SK Biotek will also do the same and that the matter will be resolved. Nobody wants to be outside the gates six weeks before Christmas or after being employed for 30 years in the same manufacturing company.

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